COURTESY OF ACLU
Bill Parker, left, and Ed Gentzler were married in 2009.
It took a weirdly long time, but the feds have finally acknowledged that Ed Gentzler and William "Bill" Parker were married.
The Social Security Administration reversed an earlier decision and agreed late last month to recognize the couple's union, as the ACLU of Missouri announced this morning. Parker did not live to see the day. He died of cancer in 2014 — a day before his 79th birthday.
In fact, it is Parker's death that kicked off the controversy. When his longtime partner Gentzler filed to collect benefits, an administrative judge rejected his claim, ruling that Gentzler wasn't eligible because Missouri did not recognize same-sex marriage until after Parker's death.
Gentzler fought the decision with the help of the ACLU of Missouri. The Social Security Administration agreed to re-examine the case in 2015 following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that gave same-sex couples equal rights.
Now, after more than three years of fighting, the administration has agreed to recognize the marriage and Gentzler's right to benefits.
“This weighed heavily on my heart for a long time, especially when the benefit denials would come on the anniversary of Bill’s death,” Gentzler said in a statement. “I’m relieved that it’s over and that others won’t have to go through this as they grieve for their loved ones.”
The couple was married in 2009 in Iowa. They had been together since 1987, meeting through mutual friends while both men lived in Seattle. They later lived in Florida but relocated to the St. Louis metro area to be closer to treatment centers for Parker when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Parker, a retired theater teacher, had grown up in Illinois. Gentzler had gone to college at the University of Missouri-Rolla and later worked at the Boeing Space Center in Washington state. They lived together in Chesterfield, and Gentzler has since moved to a retirement community in Kirkwood.
ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert praised the Social Security Administration's change of heart.
“This decision affirms that same-sex couples should be able to receive the benefits of marriage, just like different-sex people do,” Rothert said in a statement. “We must continue to dismantle unjust laws and policies to protect the rights of all Missourians.”
Correction: Information about Gentzler's and Parker's occupations were switched in the original article. We regret the error.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.