Justice for Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree

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Take a good look at these five guys. They are the face of compassionate conservatism, or at least one of its faces. They are the five Ocean County freeholders who denied lesbian cop Laurel Hester’s request that her pension go to her partner Stacie Andree. Hester is dying of lung cancer, and her pension would allow Andree to keep the home they have shared. One of these guys, John Kelly, said earlier that granting Hester’s request, and thus allowing Andree to keep their home, would “violate the sanctity of marriage.” The five have refused to make further comments, but issued a statement claiming “cost considerations” in the denial of Hester’s request.

You can send them a message about their stance on “morality” and “values” in Hester and Andree’s case, by contacting the Clerk of the Board at (732) 288 7777 or, from outside the USA +1 732 288 7777, or via email at CountyConnection@co.ocean.nj.us

For what it’s worth, the five freeholders may not be typical of straight guys in Ocean County, NJ. At least one who has worked alongside Hester is appeals for justice in Hester and Andree’s case.

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Dane Wells, who describes himself as a “run-of-the-mill, middle-aged straight guy”, is not very happy with the movers and shakers of his local community, Ocean County in New Jersey.

…“Please, I need help,” Mr. Wells said in an email to UK Gay News.

… “After 25 years of risking her life every day in the trenches of law enforcement, her employer has just denied her pension benefits because she has ”come out“ as a lesbian on the eve of her death.

”Please help. Time is short as death draws closer every day to Laurel’s door. At Thanksgiving 2005, there are few travesties in America more compelling than this one.“ He wrote.

While Wells, may be reaching a bit in saying that there are ”few travesties in America more compelling“ than Hester and Andree’s plight, it does underscore a certain irony in the fact that their story is unfolding during a time of the year that is supposed to be all about family, compassion, etc., and how the five freeholders — who would claim faith as a reason for denying Hester her request and Andree the home they shared — seem to miss some very basic points that their faith and the ”reason for the season“ should easily bring to mind.

Wells lays it out pretty well in his editorial.

I have seen justice denied to someone who spent her life ensuring justice for the rest of us.

I have seen my government turn its back on a loyal servant.

I have seen a human being skewered – apparently on religious grounds – and I just can’t for the life of me understand how any god being worshiped by anyone in this county could possibly approve of this.

Laurel Hester’s last request is not about politics, religion, or economics.

It’s not about the ”sanctity of marriage“ or any of the other things we’ve been hearing about.

But it is about morality.

It is about human dignity.

It is about at least some minimal amount of goodness many of us want so desperately to find in the essence of human existence.

It is indeed about morality, human dignity, and some modicum of basic decency. The five freeholders don’t get it, but Wells does and so do the 100 supporters who turned out at a rally for Hester and Andree. The folks at UK Gay News get it too.

How this situation – and the thousands of others that go unnoticed – can arise in the United States puzzles us at UK Gay News. America proclaims itself as the leader of the world. But when it comes for basic rights of same-sex couples living in a long-term relationship, the country is probably in the bottom quartile.

The old chestnut about family values and sanctity of marriage just does not wash. America has one of the highest divorce rates in the world and is where a pop star can get married for the weekend.

The word ”humbug“ comes to mind.

But then the folks at UK Gay News live in a country that, while it hasn’t endorsed equal marriage, has enacted Civil Partnerships bill which offers same sex couples a range of rights and protections, including pension benefits. Even such a half-step towards equality puts the UK light years ahead of the U.S., where the five freeholders can remain holy and wholly embrace discrimination and couples like Hester and Andree are denied those basic rights and protections as a matter of ”morality“ and ”values,“ while same sex couples in the U.K. are queuing up for what promises to be a ”gay marriage boom.“

In that light, it kind of makes sense that Wells would take his plea for justice on Hester’s behalf beyond U.S. borders, to the U.K. If recent developments are any indication, it stands a much better chance of being heard, understood, and supported there than it does here.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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11 Responses to Justice for Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree

  1. sennoma says:

    My spousal unit points out that the couple may be able to sidestep this if Hester grants Andree power of attorney.  I am not familiar with US law so I don’t know whether that would work; I am inclined to assume it wouldn’t, or they’d have done it and the stories would mention it.

  2. sennoma says:

    Ooops, I didn’t explain the situation well enough, spousal unit didn’t realise it was about the pension after Hester’s death — power of attorney won’t work for an inheritance issue.

  3. Nio says:

    I called today. It’s posted.

  4. Hi: I was in the meeting room and spoke as well when Laurel Hester pled her case before the board of chosen freeholders of Ocean county, NJ. Not that it matters all that much, but the issue is whether her partner can collect an annuity pension — there is a chas value payout she could collect as beneficiary (doesn’t have to be married), but the time/value of the annuity, given the partner’s age (29) is far greater than the lump sum. ($13000 US/yr. vrs $100000/US one time payment).

    The freeholder’s public argument, at this time (it’s changed over the past three months) is that granting Lt. Hester’s dying wish, which they CAN do by passing a simple resolution, would also create this new benefit (pensions for domestic partners) for all Ocean county employees, while discriminiating against "straight" couples who cannot, under NJ law, domestically partner. (But they can marry … ) 

    Bottom line is very simple — Ocean County is a very conservative, Republican dominated district, and the freeholders are loathe to vote in favor of a Democratic-driven bill passed by the state legislators in our capital of Trenton. By punting the issue back at the state, the freeholders make the state Dems the evildoers in the eyes of their constituents, and preserve their own integrity as Republicans.

    The bad news for them is, they are already individually, collectively and publically being roasted in hell for not backing Hester. You could see it in their eyes. They HATE having to do this, but they see it as their only choice.

    Well, bullocks. Ocean County is NJ’s summer playground, and the lbgti community is committed to shutting it down this summer. Not one pink greenback for Ocean. If these fools can’t sacrifice partisanship for compassion, MAYBE a short, sharp shock to the tx rolls will do the trick.

    Please do feel free to communicate, politely if possible, your opprobrium towards the Board of Frozen Cheeseholders, as we have come to think of them.  

  5. Danielle Chrisitani says:

    I also attended the 12/7 Freeholder meeting and I was shocked at the end when Joe Vicari said that "I struggle with this matter everyday, but it is out of my control".  That is when the croud started to yell, because 2 other county Freeholders have passed this issue.  I hope that Joe Vicari reads up on the issues passed by his fellow freeholders.
    It was stated that 210 couples have filed for domestic partnership in Ocean County.  Can someone tell me the percentage of county workers that will apply for domestic benfits.  I was the only other person in the room that has a partner working over 20 years for the county. 
    Equal Justice For All.

  6. Robert Shawn White says:

    I must say that I am truly hurt by the fact that these people will not honor her last wishes. Why can’t the rest of this country understand that we live in a free society, (or until it compromises with the religous government). 

    She is on her last days, and I feel that she should be respected to her last breath. Laurel Hester and her partner and family and friends are in my thiughts and this has inspired me to continue to fight for what rights is deserve.

  7. Eddie Martin says:

    Just to correct a statement above on civil partnerships in the UK.  The new law mirrors the Civil Marriage Act and same-sex couples who take advantage of registering a civil partnership get ALL the benefits as does a heterosexual couple who are civilly married.  The only difference is in the name.  And the majority of gays and lesbians here are more than happy with the new law and its name.  At the end of the day, we would rather have the legislation in place than insist on calling it gay marriage and having the law not passed by Parliament.  And another aspect is that same-sex couples wer able to adopt children BEFORE the civil partnerships came into effect.

    On the subect of this thread, there are many who hope that Ocean County comes to its senses and lets Laurl Hester pass on her pension to her long-term partner.  It is nothing short of scandalous that this particular county does not go along with the "spirit" of the law in New Jersey.  There is a distinct "smell" of political "corruption" wafting across the Atlantic to these shores.

  8. MH says:

    The power of attorney idea IS a possible solution, just not the way the earlier writer envisioned.  What is urgently needed is a husband for Hester so that her hard-earned benefits are not lost after she dies.  Someone who will love her in her last days, make her legally eligible to bequeath her benefits to a spouse and who will take care of her life-partner (by turning over the benefit proceeds to her, possibly with a power of attorney) after she is gone.

    They’ve fought the good fight and they have apparently lost.  Bigotry is the victor. But there’s no reason her partner should lose the $$$ as well. 

  9. Kathy Perrine says:

    I find it disturbing that as a woman lays dying Mr. Kelly can pass judgement and say that this woman is immoral.  What is immoral is Mr. Kelly thinking he can judge another human being.  I think just based on that stupid statement you all should reconsider your stand and apologize for his behavior

  10. This is the email I sent the Freeholders –

    Dear Freeholders of Ocean County –

    When I heard what you were doing to Ms. Hester and Ms. Andree I was appauled, shocked, dismayed, and horrified. Ms. Hester spend 24 years of her life in public service to your county and this is how you are treating her? This is not right!

    Being gay and having a life partner is not a violation to the sanctity of marriage – it is a celebration of the bond two people have for one another. The real violation is when people get married without being prepared for it, or getting married as some sort of statement. If you have read any of the statistics from countries that have legalized gay marriage you would see that while heterosexuals have a divorce rate of about 50%, homosexuals have a divorce rate of about 12%. Does this sound like a “violation of the sanctity of marriage” to you?

    You use religion as a basis for your decision. What happened to the seperation of Church and State? Was this one lost on you? Do you not remember learning about this in grammar school? I do. And once again it makes me sick that someone in your positions could use something like religion to decide on the laws and actions of this state. What is next? Burning of Witches (again)? Selling little girls into sexual slavery? Nailing Jews to posts so that YOU can have someone clean your home? Where does it end? The same religious arguements you are making against gay marriage are the same as the ones used to deny interracial marriage. Is that next too, Freeholders?

    Even if you hate homosexuals – you are denying a HUMAN BEING her rights. She paid into her pension, and she (and she alone) should decide who gets those benefits after her death. You call her “amoral” because of the way YOUR God created her and now you sit and judge His creation, it you who are amoral. Doesn’t your Bible state that “no man may know the will of God”?

    You are a disgrace to New Jersey – there is a special spot in hell for men like you. And I hope you suffer the same fate you are consigning Ms. Hester and Ms. Andree to.

    I know Wednesday you are voting again – if her request is not granted a second time I hope you all never see another term in New Jersey politics again. You self-centered, self-righteous, homophobic, racist, sexists jerks!

    Sincerely –

    Kellie R. Crouse
    Once proud NJ resident.

  11. Dani -n- Kerri says:

    GOD BLESS YOU LAUREL, You are our ANGEL now!

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