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Lt. Laurel Hester (August 15, 1956 – February 18, 2006) was a lesbian New Jersey police officer who rose to national attention with her deathbed appeal for the extension of pension benefits to domestic partners.
Laurel Hester was a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County, New Jersey prosecutor's office when she was struck down by rapidly spreading lung cancer. The cancer metastasized and spread to her brain, and it became clear that she had little time to live. Hester lived with and jointly owned a house with her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, who would not be able to afford mortgage payments upon Hester's death. A married heterosexual with Hester's years of police service would be able able to pass on pension benefits to a spouse, but this privilege was not accorded to same-sex domestic partners in Ocean County.
Hester appealed to local authorities to change this policy, and was supported by the local Policemen's Benefit Association. Instead, in a private meeting on November 9, 2005, the five Republican county freeholders voted against the proposal, with freeholder John P. Kelly arguing that it threatened "the sanctity of marriage." On November 23, a rally of between 100 and 200 supporters gathered to protest the county's inaction.
On January 18, 2006, an impassioned videotaped appeal by a weakening Hester from her hospital bed was shown at a meeting of the freeholders, who then met with county Republican leaders in a teleconference on January 20. The next day, the freeholders announced that they were reversing their stance, and would meet on January 25 to extend pension benefits to registered domestic partners.
She died on February 18, 2006, aged 49, in her home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
Her battle was documented in the 2007 film, Freeheld, winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Short Documentary.
- Wilson, Michael. "Lieutenant Who Won Pension Rights for Her Domestic Partner Dies at 49", The New York Times, February 20, 2006. Accessed December 18, 2007. "Lieutenant Hester died in the house in Point Pleasant that she owned with her partner, Stacie Andree."
- Video message from Hester to freeholders.
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