FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | July 9, 2002
Lesbian Partner Unable to Claim Benefits
(Tampa, FL, July 9, 2002) — One year ago, Tampa Officer Lois Marrero was killed in the line of duty leaving behind colleagues, friends, family and a life partner of 11 years, Officer Mickie Mashburn.
Lois' death brought not only grief, but the sad realization that the life she and Mickie shared for more than a decade was of no legal consequence. Mickie would not receive the pension benefits due a survivor. At a time of her deepest grief, Mickie's world became a maze of paperwork, legal battles and conflict.
Lois was the fighter in the family. Years earlier she had cheered the passage of Tampa's non-discrimination policy and pushed for domestic partnership benefits in the Police department. Now tragic circumstances, an immovable bureaucracy and the reality that their shared debts remained, forced Mickie into the role of reluctant activist.
Now, the court battle still rages and regardless of whether she will see the benefit of her efforts, Mickie remains committed to ensuring no one else endures the pain and indignity of having their relationship ignored.
Mickie has not battled alone. Within the Tampa Police department and the community, Lois' death and Mickie's plight have sparked others to action to push for equality and fairness in the distribution of an officer pension.
Many were shocked to see the real human cost of the legal inequities. People who do the same job and take the same risk deserve the same confidence that their families of choice, as well as blood, will be taken care of.
Across the country other business, communities and states are recognizing that the government should protect not invalidate our families: Civil unions in Vermont, hundreds of local Domestic Partnership ordinances and thousands of domestic partnership policies enacted by leading corporations throughout the country.
At the federal level, a great deal of attention has been paid to the newly passed "Mychal Judge Act" named for a gay clergyman who was killed ministering to victims of the Sept 11 tragedy. This bill, recently signed by President Bush, was touted as a victory for same-gender couples that would provide a $250,000 benefit to "those who would most likely suffer financially" when a police officer, firefighter or other public safety officer is killed in the line of duty.
But the law has not benefited a single same-gender couple and the cruel irony is that because it was made retroactive only to September 11, it will likely deny benefits to the survivor of the first openly gay or lesbian police officer to be killed in the line of duty in this country - Lois Marrero.
This weekend, law enforcement officers from across the country will attend a memorial for officer Marrero held at this years Tampa Bay Pride event at Raymond James Stadium.
It is time for our community, our state and our country to end the patchwork approach to remedying the callous and arbitrary way same-gender partners are treated in life and in death. Whether someone is denied access to their loved ones hospital room, access to health care, or survivors' benefits, the lack of legal protection is wrong and can and must be remedied.
Complex legal contracts, Byzantine legal requirements, and the continual updating of forms are the unreliable (and only) path that same-gender partners must follow if they are to have any chance of their wishes being carried out. They hope they will not be tripped up by illogical or over looked paperwork requirements. The new federal act will ignore all other information if the most recent life insurance policy bears a name other than the partner, despite the myriad reasons a couple might choose to name a different beneficiary or fail to make the update.
Just weeks before Marrero's murder, she and Mashburn celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their Holy Union with a trip to Orlando. Mashburn and Marrero wore matching wedding bands and were known to all their family, friends and coworkers as a couple. Mashburn and Marrero were virtually inseparable.
Following Marrero's death, however, Mashburn was left alone to pay all of the couple's bills by herself. Lois' parents have been awarded her pension and are now in line to receive the Federal funds the law says should go to the one "most likely to suffer financially from the public safety officers death" - talk about your unintended consequences!
It's probably safe to assume that in the future, another gay or lesbian police officer or firefighter will sacrifice their life while making the world a little safer for the rest of us, just as Officer Lois Marrero did a year ago. And if that gay or lesbian officer jumped through all the necessary hoops, a same-sex partner may indeed some day receive the same benefit that a surviving spouse receives automatically (no hoop jumping required).
The new federal law is a small step forward for same-gender partners that should challenge us all to remedy the remaining inequities. Too bad the law is not enough to honor Officer Marrero.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.Karen Doering is a staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and consultant to Equality Florida's Legal Advocacy Project. She represents Mickie Mashburn in her legal battle with the pension board.