Originally published: Jan. 26, 2009, 9:16 p.m.
Updated: Jan. 27, 2009, 8:00 a.m.
CHARLOTTE — On Monday, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James (R) sent an email blast to constituents and Charlotte citizens decrying an upcoming Commission discussion on domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of county employees.
His email blast has sparked concern after James used the slur “trannies” to describe transgender people, stereotypically defined bisexuals as promiscuous and incorrectly asserted that North Carolina law still criminalizes homosexuality.
“This Thursday and Friday (29th and 30th) the Mecklenburg County Commission is to meet at the Ballantyne Lodge … , a swanky resort in Southern Mecklenburg, to discuss a variety of issues,” James wrote in the email. “One of those issues is to instruct the County Manager to “develop a plan around the goal” of providing insurance benefits to homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and trannies (the so-called ‘spouses’ of the County’s homosexual employees).”
Concerning bisexuals, James said, “Can Bisexuals that believe that they are in a a committed relationship with multiple partners be covered? Suppose there is a ‘Three’s Company’ of the sorted and very icky kind. Are the three covered if they pledge their love and commitment? How about 5 or 7? What basis would Mecklenburg County have for determining that ‘two people’ having sex outside of marriage is ‘OK’ (thought it is against the law) but ‘Three or more’ is not?”
James incorrectly said LGBT citizens were criminals. “If homosexuality is still illegal according to NC law (it is) and it is being enforced today through arrests by the City police (it is) then why would the County offer insurance to employees who are breaking the law but just haven’t been caught,” he asked.
He noted, “[A] recent US Supreme Court decision did not ‘legalize sodomy’ but rather it prohibited prosecution in private (a home for example). The law in NC still defines the acts committed by homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals as illegal and a criminal act and even ‘solicitation’ is currently used to arrest homosexuals who often congregate in certain parks for hook-ups.”
The decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down all states’ abilities to prosecute any sexual activity that takes place in private and between two consenting adults. Despite James’ claims, LGBT citizens who have partners and who have a relationship with each other in the privacy of their own homes are not breaking state law.
The conservative Commissioner, known for his outspoken anti-gay views, also asserted the new policy might allow polygamists the right to insure their partners.
The Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) released the following statement regarding James’ comments: “Mecklenburg Gay & Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) is pleased that the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has begun researching the issue of domestic partner benefits for the county’s employees. MeckPAC will ensure that County Commissioners have the most accurate resources available to help guide their decision-making on this important issue. Mecklenburg County lags far behind many businesses and other similar-sized municipal governments who have long ago enacted policies that provide such benefits. Top-notch recruitment/retention of county employees, as well as the strong message it sends that Charlotte is an inclusive and welcoming place to live and work, are major reasons why providing employee benefits equitably is so vitally important.”
Neither the City of Charlotte nor Mecklenburg County currently offer domestic partner benefits; however, the County anti-discrimination policies include sexual orientation. It was added to the policy by the County Commission in May 2005 (See, “Mecklenburg County okays employment protection for gay employees,” June 6, 2005).
Just last Tuesday, Jan. 20, Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton spoke to the Charlotte Business Guild. The topic of discussion quickly turned to the City of Charlotte’s stance on domestic partner benefits and a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender-identity, which the city has yet to pass.
Walton said local officials’ hands were tied because of the city attorney’s interpretation of the North Carolina Constitution.
“Cities and counties have such few powers in North Carolina,” Walton said. “To me [the state is the] safest place to start. The legal restraints the city attorney has placed around these issues — really what the State of North Carolina has placed around these issues — are what I have to operate around.”
Marc Kaplan, a community member who attended the Guild meeting, said the city’s stance didn’t make any sense. “I think it is all a cop out,” he said. “I think that if the politicians cared to do it, they could do it.”
Six other local governments in North Carolina offer domestic partner benefits. They include Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Durham County, Greensboro and Orange County. When the City of Greensboro added policies insuring same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners, the State Attorney General Roy Cooper’s input was sought. Cooper’s office refrained from offering any substantial legal guidance and left the City of Greensboro to decide the issue on its own.
No local municipality in North Carolina has faced legal repercussions from the state because of domestic partner benefits.