ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Buncombe County commissioners voted 4-3 on Tuesday to begin offering health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of county employees. The mountain county, home to the liberal and artsy Asheville, becomes the fourth county in North Carolina to offer such benefits to LGBT couples, following Durham, Mecklenburg and Orange Counties. Several cities, including Asheville, already offer domestic partner benefits. Others include Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte Durham and Greensboro.
“This move by the Buncombe County Commissioners sends a clear signal that LGBT employees of the county are valued and respected members of the workforce who deserve equal treatment,” the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality said in a release. We have seen many local employers, including Mission Hospital, adopt similar policies in recent years. If your goal is to attract and retain the best workforce, this kind of policy is now standard procedure.”
The decision, made along a party-line vote, allows LGBT couples and their dependents access to health and life insurance, use of leave time and all entitlements under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Commissioners voted to proceed with the benefits despite doubt cast by an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment passed by voters in May 2012. The amendment defines marriage between a man and a woman as the “only domestic legal union” in the state.
Debate during the amendment campaign centered on a variety of topics, including the potential ban on protections like domestic partner benefits. Yet, the amendment has seemed to have no effect on the local policies. The Charlotte City Council, for instance, approved their domestic partner plan in June 2012, just one month after the amendment passed. Those benefits went into effect in January. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has yet to issue an opinion on the effect of the amendment.