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Commissioners approve domestic partner benefits

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Mecklenburg County Commissioners passed a controversial domestic partner benefits policy during its meeting Tuesday night.

Under the new policy, a Mecklenburg County employee who is in a same-sex relationship where both partners live together and share financial responsibilities, will now be eligible to receive county benefits for their partner as long as one of them is a county employee.  The employees would be allowed to sign up for the new plan during the next open enrollment period in the fall of 2010.

In a 6-3 vote, the commissioners approved the policy which is expected to cost the county around $400,000 a year based on 1 percent participation.

According to Mecklenburg County spokesperson Danny Diehl and assistant county manager John McGillicuddy, the benefits policy in which the commissioners approved applies only to same-sex couples. 

Diehl and McGillicuddy said the policy does not apply to heterosexual couples who live together and are not married. 

The policy refers, specifically, to couples who are prevented from being legally married in North Carolina. 

Reverend Mark Harris of First Baptist Church Charlotte doesn't see the need for the domestic partner benefits.

"If it ain't broke don't fix it," Harris said.

Several local ministers weighed-in and sounded-off during Tuesday's meeting saying they're opposed to extending domestic partner benefits. 

As much as the voices of resistance made their presence known, activists said offering benefits to a new group of people is a matter of principle.

Lawana Mayfield is a community activist for Charlotte's gay community.

"The issue of domestic partner benefits is one of fairness and equality, not religion," Mayfield said.

When commissioners had their chance to speak out, it was an issue that went right down party lines.

Republican Karen Bentley had her heels dug in.

"I just don't think this holds water," Bentley said. "I don't think we're behind the curve on this. I don't think there is an outcry that there is a significant demand internally or from the exterior market place that we offer these benefits."

Democrat George Dunlap said by not passing a benefits package, it promotes bias and says Charlotte is not a progressive place.

"I'm not gay, but I believe they have right to feed their family," Dunlap said. "I still believe they are God's creation.  I still believe they are human.  I believe we are our brother's keeper."

By offering domestic partner benefits, Mecklenburg County follows Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Greensboro and Durham and Orange counties. Four of those also offer the benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.

 

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