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Charlotte may rescind benefits for unmarried same-sex partners

The city of Charlotte may rescind benefits for same-sex unmarried partners, now that gay marriage has been legal in North Carolina for nine months and is allowed nationwide.

Charlotte first offered benefits to same-sex partners in January 2013. But the city could follow the lead of some private companies in removing those benefits if couples are not married. The city does not offer benefits to the partners of unmarried, opposite-sex partners.

The city’s benefits run on a calendar year, and employees will be choosing enrollment packages in the fall. Any change would be made by then, the city said.

“It’s being discussed at this time,” said city spokeswoman Catherine Bonfliglio.

IBM, for instance, was one of the first large U.S. companies to offer benefits to same-sex partners in the mid-1990s. But as gay marriage became legal in more states, the technology company required gay and lesbian employees to be married in states where they could, if they wanted a partner to receive benefits, according to The New York Times.

Verizon has taken similar steps, according to news reports.

The city of Charlotte’s nearly 3-year old policy of offering same-sex benefits is not a budgetbuster. The city said it estimates 17 people have some form of same-sex benefits for their partners.

Scott Bishop of MeckPAC, a lobbying group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said he thinks the city should offer benefits to domestic partners of both same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

“It depends on how inclusive they want to be,” he said. “If they want to remain competitive in hiring, they ought to extend domestic partner benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.”

Bishop said great strides have been made in gay rights, but it’s possible some gay and lesbian employees might still have not come out to their friends or family. Having to marry so a partner can receive benefits could be a difficult decision, he said.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said municipalities and businesses should keep their policies in place for same-sex employees while assessing the impact of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage is legal nationwide.

“The best course of action would be to offer those partner benefits and see what the full impact of the ruling is,” he said.

Mecklenburg County, which has offered benefits to unmarried same-sex partners since 2009, is studying whether to continue those benefits, a spokesperson said.

Some organizations won’t be affected because they already offered benefits to unmarried partners, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Wells Fargo allows eligible employees to enroll a spouse or domestic partner – regardless of gender – for benefits. That will not change, a representative said Thursday.

Queens University of Charlotte has offered benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees since 2007.

At that time, employees submitted an affidavit that declared their domestic partnership. The university recently opened up those benefits to all domestic partners.

Cathy Graham, director of benefit services for the Employers Association, a Charlotte-based group that provides training and human resources services to 900 companies, said she expects more companies and municipalities that offer domestic partner benefits regardless of sexual orientation to keep existing policies.

But she said she expects organizations that only offer the benefits to same-sex partners to either rescind those benefits or offer them to all employees.

“The dust is still settling right now,” she said. “But I do think it’s a trend we’ll see going forward.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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