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Non-spouses are not entitled to spousal benefits

The whole affair regarding the tragic death of Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero is indeed very sad. Once the grieving is over, the pension issue will need to be resolved.

The bottom line in this issue is the definition of "spouse." Any partner in a relationship outside of marriage is not entitled to spousal benefits, regardless of sexual orientation. When such a relationship is initiated, the parties involved know benefits are not available. They have made a conscious decision not to have such benefits.

Sexual orientation is irrelevant in this situation since two heterosexuals could not claim such benefits, nor could siblings, parents or even simple roommates. Marriage is defined by the union of a man and a woman. This isn't homophobic rhetoric, but deliberate use of government social engineering as an incentive to the formation of nuclear families.

Eric Johnson, St. Petersburg

No marriage, no benefits

The idea that non-married couples should be entitled to survivor benefits is ridiculous. It increases the cost of everything, including newspapers. That additional cost will be passed on down to the people who pay for everything: the public. Next, they'll be wanting to pass down Social Security survivor benefits. Keep it as it should be, no marriage _ no benefits!

L.J. Edgar, Clearwater

Marriage is a defined institution

The tragic death of Officer Lois Marrero, and the dispute over how her benefits should be awarded, is being improperly used to address the issue of same-sex marriage.

Marriage (and family) is a defined institution. It is not a catchall description for any group, pairing or living arrangement. Incest, polygamy and other unions are specifically excluded, as are homosexual couplings. The social and moral foundations of family are longstanding, and we would be foolish to simply cast them aside without a careful and unemotional assessment of just what the consequences would be.

Advocates of same-sex marriage like to say that family is an evolving institution, and society needs to redefine family to accommodate homosexuals. But it is just as accurate to say that the institution of family, rather than evolving, is eroding. Divorce, easy cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births have done nothing to strengthen the institution. Same-sex marriage likewise will not reinforce the sagging state of family in America.

Homosexuals need to be treated justly and compassionately by society. But in doing this, we need not accept a value system that would at best have questionable consequences upon families, and at worst, further weaken or even destroy them.

When everything becomes family, then nothing will be family.

Robert Arvay, Tampa

It's just more discrimination

On July 6, Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero, a 19-year veteran, was killed in the line of duty. Since her death, Tampa officials have announced that her partner of 10 years, Detective Mickie Mashburn, will receive no pension benefits because the women were not legally allowed to marry.

I am outraged that our outdated laws prohibit Officer Marrero's longtime partner from receiving any of the benefits to which she is morally entitled as the surviving partner. All families are deserving of full protection and support.

This lack of recognition means same-gender partners are often kept from the hospital room of a dying partner, are denied any health insurance benefits and are often shut out by homophobic relatives of their partner.

This terrible tragedy is just one example of the cruel discrimination all same-gender families face every day.

Carlos Milan, St. Petersburg

Typical lies and excuses

Gay Americans have worked hard for the passage of laws that guarantee equality under law and policy. At every turn we are accused of seeking what Jerry Falwell dubbed "special rights," a term that has become a mantra among those who seek to thwart constitutional principles regarding anyone whose rights aren'tspecifically mentioned in the document. Others, who think themselves to be more reasonable simply claim that such laws are not necessary since gay Americans, by and large, are less persecuted than in Iran or Cuba. None of those people would be willing to settle for less than equal rights of citizenship, so I don't understand why they would think that gay people would either.

The validity of the need for equal rights and justice is born out by the actions of the police retirement board in denying Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero's next of kin the same benefits she would receive if they had been legally able to enter civil marriage. No lawmaker or judge has had the guts to end this religious and gender-based discrimination forbidden under law but allowed to continue because gay people are not specifically mentioned among those protected under the Constitution.

The executives who made this decision made a mockery of the official mourning of the loss of Lois Marrero's life. Now they are trying to act as if the decision is out of their hands. That's a lie and an excuse. Unfortunately it's typical. They are spitting on Officer Marrero's grave and the memorial to fallen officers.

David Hastings, Gulfport

To follow the rules, or not?

Re: Compounding a tragedy, and, Investor first, taxpayer second, editorials, July 13.

You indicate that St. Petersburg City Council member Virginia Littrell has yet to grasp that a public servant should lead by example and "follow the rules."

In the first editorial you indicate that a police officer has and is being treated like a second-class citizen. That police officer has just spent 19 years enforcing "the rules." If obtaining a pension benefit was a priority, maybe she should have worked at the Times. She chose to do the job she loved regardless of the employee benefits. By all means work to change "the rules" for the future. Let's not recommend "to hell with the rules" at the top of the page and to "follow the rules" at the bottom.

Jim Allen, Seminole

Pension plan should be amended

I am saddened both by the slaying of Tampa police Officer Marrero and by the word that her survivors will be denied the pension benefits she earned in 19 years of public service. Apparently the city's pension plan does not recognize any relationship outside of marriage as legitimate. This bias is sickening when you learn that Marrero leaves behind her life partner; it is revolting when you realize that there is a monetary incentive to denying benefits.

The Times editorial, Compounding a tragedy (July 13) had it right in stating "it is indecent to allow a police pension plan to make money when an officer is killed," but I think the indecency goes deeper. Suppose Officer Marrero was single and had not yet formed a life partnership. She still would have been a fine officer who made the ultimate sacrifice to enhance public safety, and she undoubtedly would leave behind many who would be in some way deprived by her absence.

None of us should be judging the worthiness of the personal relationships of the deceased. That is why the pension plan should be amended to allow the earned benefits to be considered part of the estate of the employee. The employee should be able to name a beneficiary (whether a person or an organization) and the recipient should be able to opt for a lump-sum payment (which would be an appropriate means to transfer a benefit to a favorite charity, for example). This would end the bias against unmarried employees and remove the monetary incentive to deny benefits.

I hope that Officer Marrero's legacy will eventually include being the catalyst for positive change in this area.

Arlin A. Briley, St. Petersburg

Officials should find the loophole

Re: Partner not eligible for pension, July 13.

A hero today, forgotten tomorrow. Is this how Tampa treats an officer who gave her life for the public? Wow, how kind of police Chief Bennie Holder to present a flag to Mickie Mashburn. Did the city need anything special at that time to admit to the relationship between them?

So no pension under Florida law, yet if this was some highly elected official I bet there would be an ordinance passed almost overnight for the spouse or non-spouse to receive the pension.

Citizens of Tampa, what makes the difference as to the designation of spouse? Officer Marrero gave her life protecting you, and now it is time you let the city and state know that her share of the pension should go to her life partner.

City and pension officials claim the law is clear. So is the right for people to touch while dancing, but in that case they changed the law to suit themselves.

Find the loophole, officials. You seem to find one for everything else.

Louis Van Roy, St. Petersburg

The laws can be changed

Gov. Jeb Bush and certain other state legislators went to great lengths for Teresa Earnhardt. Just like that, the laws were changed for her.

How far are they willing to go for Detective Mickie Mashburn, who has just as much right to Officer Marrero's pension as any man would have? They shared a life, a career, a home and much love (and love is not solely physical).

The way I see it, the city of Tampa, the Police Pension Board and the state of Florida are engaging in discriminatory practices.

Debra Durant, St. Petersburg

Join the gleaners' efforts

Your July 12 article A call to harvest, about the Gleaners of Hillsborough County, was a well-deserved tribute to caring people who do the hot, dirty and back-breaking work of picking fruits and vegetables from generous farmers' fields.

The article states, "The produce is overripe or imperfect." I can attest that the gleaners know what to pick since the products they deliver to the Pasco Food Bank rival in quality the food offered by your local supermarket or produce stand.

The Food Bank is thankful for the opportunity to offer nutritional fresh fruits and vegetables to our agencies that distribute food to elders, low-income wage earners, domestic violence victims, children and the disabled, unemployed and homeless. And the taste and smell of canned products can't compete with those of a ripe tomato or a juicy cantaloupe.

We encourage others to join with the gleaners to help these free, healthy fruits and vegetables reach our less fortunate neighbors. For younger families it's a way to start developing a new generation of caring people. Most children love to get dirty, and all of that fresh farm air will tire them out.

Volunteers, and I know many, tend to be happy and really enjoy what they do, no matter their age. They recognize their many blessings and are willing to help those who have less.

If gleaning doesn't interest you, just look around your community. There are so many opportunities to share your talents, labor and time. And you'll find that the rewards of volunteering will amaze you.

Karen Buck, Pasco Food Bank, Land O'Lakes

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