The widow of a lesbian pastor in East Harlem is suing the Presbyterian Church for withholding her partner's pension, the New York Post reports.
Shannon Clarkson filed charges against the Presbyterian Church's pension board in Manhattan Federal Court, according to the newspaper, after being denied access to the pension of her late partner, Letty M. Russell. Clarkson and Russell were together for 32 years. They had entered into a civil union which was officially recognized by their home state of Connecticut.
Russell died in 2007 after serving for 12 years as a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension in East Harlem. She was one of the first female Presbyterian pastors in the U.S. and went on to join the Yale Divinity School, where she wrote about and taught theology from a feminist perspective.
Clarkson wrote in an obituary of Russell in 2007:
According to the Post, Russell was receiving a $600 monthly pension from the church, and had named Clarkson as her beneficiary. Clarkson alleges that the church has refused to pay her the pension, despite recognizing same-sex civil unions and marriages. In 2014, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow its ordained pastors to conduct same-sex marriages, and changed the wording in church constitutions to be more inclusive of same-sex couples.
The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.