CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James renewed his call to repeal existing domestic partner benefits in several email exchanges last week with other commissioners, county employees and the leader of the statewide group which supported the passage of an anti-gay state constitutional amendment this May.
In emails provided to qnotes by James, the anti-gay Republican asked County Manager Harry Jones and County Attorney Marvin Bethune to provide an opinion on the legality of the county’s current domestic partner benefits, which include healthcare insurance and other privileges for same-sex partners of county employees.
James decried what he described as attempts by some to circumvent the new anti-gay constitutional measure.
“I understand that liberals want to ignore laws they don’t like … ,” James wrote. “The voters of NC have spoken and no government bureaucrat should be allowed to use a faux opinion as cover to protect what is now an illicit benefit.”
Jones has thus far relied on a legal whitepaper circulated by Diane Juffras, an associate professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina School of Government. In the brief, Juffras outlines the reasons why North Carolina’s recently-approved anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment will not bar benefits offered by local governments to employees’ same-sex partners. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has been asked by several municipal governments to weigh in on the issue. His office has yet to issue an opinion or advisory.
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James said Juffras’ opinion is biased.
“I am not content to allow someone who obviously is an advocate for homosexual benefits (and has been for some time) to determine whether it is (or is not) legal in Mecklenburg since our duty is to uphold the NC Constitution,” he wrote.
In a second conversation, Tami Fitzgerald, an anti-gay lobbyist and leader of the Vote For Marriage NC referendum committee, told James that the recently-passed amendment would ban domestic partner benefits, which she said “constitutes recognition by a public entity of a domestic legal union other than marriage, which the Amendment prohibits.”
Citing two different legal opinions offered by the conservative Alliance Defense Fund and conservative lawyers at Campbell University, Fitzgerald said “benefits can be offered on the basis of some other criteria that would not constitute a domestic legal union.”
She wrote, “For instance, a plan that allowed employees to designate any third party as a beneficiary would be legal under the NC Marriage Amendment. Of course, that would be much more fair than offering benefits on the basis of a domestic partnership and could include elderly parents, siblings, etc.”
Responding to Fitzgerald, James intimated that litigation might be required.
“Whether it takes litigation to make Mecklenburg County to do the right thing (and follow the law) is unknown at this point,” he said.
James also said he might bring the discussion before the full commission if the county attorney could not provide a legal opinion on the matter.
“I have been content to wait on that opinion before placing something on the Commission agenda,” James wrote. “If however, there are no opinions forthcoming I will move to have the discussion around why the legal analysis has not been completed.”
James initially called for an end to domestic partner benefits just one day after the amendment’s approval.