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Breaking: Laurel Hester will be able to leave pension benefit to partner

The Ocean County, NJ Freeholders finally do the right thing. It only happened after the five heartless Republican Freeholders were avalanched by calls, emails and critical TV coverage. In the end, Laurel Hester will be able to pass her pension benefit to her partner, Stacie Andree. It was Laurel’s bravery — and the support from around the world — that made this happen. It’s sad that it took that amount of exposure to overturn such bigotry, but the happy ending is worth it.

Following Hester’s emotional appeal freeholders refused to reopen the issue. But following news coverage including television reports which showed Hester’s deteriorating condition, freeholders were besieged with critical phone calls and emails.

Late Friday state Sen. Andrew Ciesla (R-Ocean) said he intends to bring in legislation that would amend the police and fire pension fund to permit domestic partners to receive benefits. That was followed by a conference call between state GOP leaders from the county and freeholders.

The conference call ended with freeholders agreeing to a special meeting next Wednesday where a new vote will be taken and Hester will be allowed to transfer her benefits. “This is one of the happiest days of my life,” Hester said on Saturday morning. “I feel like David conquering Goliath.”

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality – the group that fought for Hester and prepared the video so she could make her final appeal to freeholders – expressed relief on Saturday.

“Truth be told, we did lose hope for a reversal in the last couple of weeks. We had applied all the pressure in the world, embarrassing the freeholders as few public servants had ever been before in the state of New Jersey or in this country, and they would not budge. Finally they did. Hallelujah! There is a God.”

Michael Jensen of The Big Gay Picture just spoke with Laurel and has this update.

I just got off the phone with Dane [Wells, the straight man who supported Laurel’s effort] and Laurel. It sounds like there is a mob of reporters, including NBC, besieging Laurel’s house to cover the story. Dane sounded exhausted, not surprising given how much time he has spent keeping Laurel company while simultaneously fighting for her cause. If Dane doesn’t come out of this whole experience known as one of our communities best friends it will be a shame. He and Laurel have changed so many lives and minds in New Jersey and beyond, that it’s remarkable. After Dane’s life has calmed down, I’ll talk with him again for his thoughts on the whole experience.

More coverage in the Ocean County Observer, Hester to win as freeholders change mind.

* Outrage: NJ Freeholders turn down Laurel Hester’s plea for partner benefits

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding