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lesbian who fought for pension benefits dies

New Jersey
lesbian who fought for pension benefits dies

Laurel Hester, a cancer-stricken law enforcement officer in New Jersey who fought to ensure that her pension benefits would be extended to her longtime domestic partner, died Saturday, according to her partner, Stacie Andree. She was 49.

Hester was a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County prosecutor's office. She and Andree, who were together for six years, had registered as domestic partners on October 28, 2004. Hester, who had lung cancer, waged a campaign during the final months of her life to have her Police and Firemen's Retirement System benefits passed on to her partner because she feared that without her $13,000 death benefit, Andree would be forced to sell their home.

New Jersey's Domestic Partners Act, which was passed in 2004, gave state employees the right to name their domestic partners as beneficiaries, but it did not require local and county governments to do the same. Instead, it gave them the right to enact legislation extending the benefits, which several have done.

Ocean County initially balked at granting the benefits, saying it should be negotiated with the unions or that the legislature should decide the issue. But the county ultimately agreed to do so, amid blistering criticism from Garden State Equality and other gay rights groups, and the Ocean County freeholders formally gave their approval late last month. (AP)

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