State Law Blocks Same-Sex Benefits For Ozark Firefighters, Attorney Finds

By Matt Lupoli |

Published 08/27 2014 10:22PM

Updated 08/27 2014 10:47PM

OZARK, Mo. -- Legal advice appears to have decided the fate of a proposal to extend health benefits to same-sex couples for employees of the Ozark Fire Protection District.

Fire Captain Andi Mooneyham told KOLR 10 News last week that she wanted the Ozark Fire board to recognize same-sex partners so that her wife, who she married in California, could be covered under her health insurance. The fire department's provider does not distinguish between gay and straight couples, and would cover them if the district allowed.

According to a letter he sent board members, the fire district's attorney, Todd Johnson, found that the board did not have the authority to make the change because they could not redefine the word "spouse" under Missouri law.

"We have both a constitutional provision and a statute that very clearly define that a spouse has to be between the opposite sex," Johnson said.

Previous Story: Firefighter Seeks Same-Sex Benefits

Johnson said only a change in Missouri law, or perhaps a decision by the Supreme Court, could change the outcome.

"It's tough knowing you live in an area and a state where you could be fired for being gay," Mooneyham told KOLR 10's Brett Martin last week.

On Wednesday night, Mooneyham said by phone she would continue to peacefully work to obtain equal benefits through legal avenues.

Johnson said the fire district is simply bound by state statute and that it's his understanding board members will follow his advice.

A meeting will be held Sept. 2 where the issue could be formally addressed, after it was tabled last week.

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