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Mecklenburg County considers cutting benefits for unmarried same-sex partners

Taking cues from the city of Charlotte and private companies across the nation, Mecklenburg County will soon consider cutting health benefits for the unmarried partners of gay and lesbian employees.

Next week, human resources director Joel Riddle will ask the county to rescind access to benefits for domestic partners of gay workers. Commissioners are expected to discuss his request to change the policy during their Tuesday board meeting.

Riddle’s recommendation comes just weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling legalized gay marriage.

“Other places are doing it,” he said. “We looked around at the landscape.”

This change will treat both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples the same.

Joel Riddle, county human resources director, in a memo

▪ What’s at stake: If commissioners approve the change, gay employees will be on equal footing with heterosexual co-workers, meaning their spouses can receive benefits, but unmarried partners will not. The county does not offer benefits to the partners of straight employees.

“This change will treat both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples the same,” Riddle said in a memo.

▪ Background: Mecklenburg County has offered benefits to partners of its gay employees since 2011, when gay marriage was illegal. Supporters touted the health policy extension as a way to recruit and retain employees and appear fair rather than discriminatory.

But now that gay marriage is legally recognized nationwide, the county – along with several other employers – is considering reversing course. On Monday, the city of Charlotte eliminated coverage for 19 employees whose partners received benefits. Other companies, such as Verizon Communications and Delta Airlines, have made similar moves.

Mecklenburg County commissioners first voted to extend benefits coverage to domestic partners of gay employees in 2009. The policy became effective in 2011.

▪ Who’s affected: Eight of Mecklenburg County’s 5,000 employees receive benefits that provide health coverage to their domestic partners.

Should commissioners approve the change, benefits for their partners would continue until January. The amended policy will also remove domestic partnerships – defined by the county as a long-term relationship between people of the same sex who live together and are financially interdependent – as an option when employees choose their health plans this fall.

Gay employees who wed will be able to list their spouses as dependents.

It’s unclear if all eight county employees with extended coverage are unmarried. It’s possible they are married but have not provided the county with documentation showing they are married.

▪ Time and place: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, in the meeting chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

▪ How to weigh in: Anyone can address the board for three minutes on any agenda topic unless there are four or more speakers wishing to speak on the same matter. You can sign up at http://boccspeaker.mecklenburgcountync.gov/Source/SignInToSpeak.aspx.

▪ How to watch: Meetings air live on The Government Channel, TWC Channel 16. They’re shown again at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. the following Wednesday, and 1 p.m. that Sunday. You can watch past meetings online at http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/CountyManagersOffice/BOCC/Meetings/Pages/Watch-Meetings.aspx.

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

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