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Charlotte says only employee spouses can receive benefits

In light of gay marriage being legalized nationwide, the Charlotte City Council voted 9-0 Monday to rescind benefits for unmarried same-sex partners.

The city began offering such benefits in 2013, when gay marriage was illegal in N.C. and most other states.

But this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage left the city in an odd position.

The city could continue to offer benefits to unmarried same-sex partners, and face questions as to why it doesn’t offer the same benefits to the unmarried partners of heterosexual employees, or Charlotte could change its policy to state that only spouses – no matter what their sexual orientation – can receive benefits.

“We feel like it’s a good policy decision to revert back to our previous level of coverage,” said the city’s human resources director, Cheryl Brown.

The change is not a major budget item for the city; officials said fewer than 20 employees have a same-sex partner with coverage under the plan.

Brown added that the city has discussed the change with the 19 employees who have a same-sex partner covered under city health insurance.

“We reached out to each of the employees,” she said. “Several had gotten married. Several had plans to get married. One was concerned and didn’t want to get married. It was expected.”

The change will go into effect in January; city employees will be making their benefits selections this fall.

Council members voted to make the change with little discussion. Some advocacy groups, including MeckPAC and Equality NC, had suggested the city postpone any decision while waiting to see the full impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

Mecklenburg County likely will make the same recommendation, and county commissioners could vote on the change next month. The county has offered unmarried same-sex partner benefits since 2009.

The city has been following the lead of some major companies since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In a landmark decision, the court ruled last month that same-sex couples have a right to marry, striking down state bans against same-sex marriage.

IBM 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.

Other companies have offered benefits to unmarried partners in both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Wells Fargo, for instance, allows eligible employees to enroll a spouse or domestic partner – regardless of gender – for benefits.

The bank has said that policy will not change.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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