Mecklenburg Considers Domestic Partner Benefits
Special Report - December 10, 2009
Mecklenburg County is considering whether to join a handful of counties and cities in North Carolina in offering health insurance benefits to the unmarried opposite sex or same-sex partners of county employees. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners is reportedly scheduled to vote on the issue of domestic partner benefits at its December 15 meeting, which is next Tuesday. Currently, the county only offers health insurance benefits to single employees or to married county employees and their spouses and children. If approved, Mecklenburg would join only two other counties in North Carolina that offer domestic partner benefitsOrange and Durham counties. The cities of Durham and Greensboro also offer domestic partner benefits to city employees, along with the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
As we previously reported, the board earlier this year requested county staff to study and review the legality of offering domestic partner benefits to county employees. According to a memo from the Mecklenburg County Manager, the staff has been working with the county’s legal counsel on the issue and asked University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Government professor, Dr. Diane Juffras to consider the matter and provide her opinion. Her article, “May North Carolina Local Government Employers Offer Domestic Partner Benefits?” was published in November in the UNC’s Public Employment Law Bulletin. In her article, Dr. Juffras concludes that, “North Carolina local government employers appear to have the authority to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees and their employees’ same-sex spouses or domestic partners of the same or different gender.”
“Domestic partner benefits are yet another effort to undermine the institution of marriage by giving the rights and privileges that are typically afforded only to heterosexual couples who are married, also to couples who are living together in relationships that many understand to be harmful to adults and children” said Jere Royall, legal counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “Cohabitation (unmarried heterosexual couples living together as husband and wife) is not the equivalent of marriage, and cohabiting relationships should not treated as though they are the same. That is exactly why North Carolina still has a law against cohabitation. (The only exception is Pender County, where a Superior Court ruling, that only applies in that county, stated that the law was unconstitutional.) With that law in place, an unmarried heterosexual couple would appear to have to confess to a criminal act to qualify for domestic partner benefits.
Recognizing this violation of the law against cohabitation for unmarried heterosexual couples, the Durham County Attorney in a 2003 Memorandum on the question of offering domestic partner insurance stated that ‘the members of the Board of Commissioners are required to take an oath of office in which each commissioner is required to swear to uphold the laws of the state of North Carolina. It would appear that the provision of health insurance to (unmarried) heterosexual couples would instead of upholding the law, actually reward a person for breaking the law. It should also be recognized that it is a criminal offense to violate an oath of office. See G.S. 14-230. While the violation of the oath may be extremely difficult to prosecute in this context, it is nevertheless a violation.’”
Royall added, “Counties and cities across the nation are facing tremendous pressure from homosexual advocacy groups and others, to provide domestic partner benefits to their unmarried employees and their partners. Government officials need to resist these efforts and protect the safety, health and welfare of their citizens by not affirming these relationships that imitate marriage and that are harmful to adults and children."
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.