Mecklenburg County commissioners agreed this afternoon to ask staff to study whether to extend domestic-partner benefits to county employees, including the legal implications of having such a policy and any additional cost.
Commissioners discussed the issue at their retreat, during a portion where they discussed other topics of interest to commissioners like funding to non-profit agencies, consolidation of city and county functions, and homelessness.
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It was unclear how long it might take county staff to study the issue, or when a proposal could come up for a vote before commissioners.
Commissioners spent about 20 minutes discussing the topic, and split 6-3 along party lines on whether they should it was a good idea to offer the benefits. Democrat Dan Murrey said it strongly supported the idea, saying it follows steps taking by numerous private companies. George Dunlap asked that staff also look into whether the policy can be extended to unmarried heterosexual couples.
Some Democrats also said the policy wouldn't cost the county any additional money.
Republican Neil Cooksey said he didn't agree necessarily that a policy change wouldn't cost the county anything. He added that offering domestic partner benefits goes against state laws defining marriage between a man and woman, and laws against unmarried heterosexual couples living together and of people having sex with someone of the same gender.
Karen Bentley, also a Republican, said that while she doesn't support offering the benefits, it doesn't mean that anyone against the idea is intolerant. She also said she believes it will cost more.
Commissioners last discussed domestic partner benefits in 2005, the same year it added “sexual orientation” to the county's nondiscrimination policy. At the time, then-Chair Parks Helms said the county should explore the issue but there were not enough votes to make it a reality.
Across the state, only six governments offer domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples: Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro and Durham and Orange counties. Some also extend the benefit to unmarried heterosexual couples.