First responders benefit from gay marriage decision 

click to enlarge (from left to right) Beth Piette, IMPD officer Teresa Welborn, IMPD officer Pamela Lee and Candace Batten-Lee. - AMBER STEARNS
  • (from left to right) Beth Piette, IMPD officer Teresa Welborn, IMPD officer Pamela Lee and Candace Batten-Lee.
  • Amber Stearns

First responders who protect and serve, and happen to be in same sex marriages, now have the ability to protect their families and loved ones.

Indianapolis Metro Police officers Teresa Welborn and Pamela Lee are married. Welborn is married to Beth Piette and Lee is married to Candace Batten-Lee. Prior to Wednesday, if anything had happened to either woman in the line of duty, their pensions and fallen officer benefits would have been denied to their spouses.

It was that realization that prompted the two officers to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state.

The case, Lee vs. Pence et. al., was one of the three federal suits U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young combined for a summary judgment declaring Indiana's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The case has now been changed to Lee vs. Pinkham et. al., because Judge Young determined Governor Pence was not the proper party to be sued in this case.

The new name refers to Fort Wayne firefighter Michael Pinkham, who is one of several defendants listed as members of the Board of Trustees of the Indiana Public Retirement System. And it was access to the Public Employees Retirement Fund that was the focal point of Welborn and Lee's case.

Because of the state's definition of marriage, PERF could not acknowledge the two officers' marriages or other same-sex marriages of Indiana's firefighters and police officers.

After Judge Young's decision came Wednesday, Welborn, Lee and their spouses reported to the PERF office first thing Thursday to fill out their paperwork and get their spouses listed as beneficiaries for their pensions.

"We're overwhelmed by the decision and excited," said Welborn at a Thursday press conference. "And especially the best part of all of this is that our spouses and our families can also receive the same benefits that the rest of the officers receive from the state and federal government."

"I want to say how grateful we are, how thankful we are to our attorneys and the support that we've gotten from the FOP," said Lee. "It means a great deal to me to know that if something happens to me my wife Candy will be taken care of."

The Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #86 and the Indianapolis Professional Firefighters IAFF 416 issued a joint statement in response to the U.S. District Court's ruling:

"We firmly believe yesterday's ruling impacts members of our collective organizations and we are confident it is another step toward the equalization of benefits and rights for our public safety professions, our City and State. We too concern ourselves with the fiscal impact of any new changes to our public pension and benefits system. However, we also place an emphasis on equitable treatment of all public safety employees and as such stand for closing gaps in benefits and compensation. We appreciate the due diligence of all those involved and believe the resulting benefits outweigh any costs for such a change."

"As a result, this proposal will affect a portion of our membership who currently pay to support other couples and children with their tax, pension and insurance contributions. In turn, these members have simply sought the same opportunity to support and provide for their loved ones."

"Additionally, this ruling will assist our public safety agencies in recruitment efforts by allowing our local communities throughout Indiana to meet the best practices of several other states and major companies to ensure our city is able to compete with other public and private organizations for high quality candidates."

"Finally, our hope is this constitutional ruling avoids confusing equitable treatment with personal moral judgments. We believe it is always the right time to do the right thing and for the right reasons this decision places value on ALL employees of our City and State who have personal and financial responsibilities to those with whom they are in committed relationships."

"Yesterday's ruling has finally closed this circle within our Circle City."

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About The Author

Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

Bio:
Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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