[Ed. Note (Sept. 7, 2014, 4:43 p.m.)— The newspaper has received several notes of concern and feedback on this article. For clarification: The newspaper is, indeed, aware that several municipalities across the state offered domestic partner benefits to employees and their same-sex partners. It appears, however, that Winston-Salem is the first municipality in North Carolina to recognize married same-sex couples with valid out-of-state marriage licenses specifically as spouses — just as they recognize opposite-sex married couples as spouses — outside of a domestic partner program or policy. We regret any original confusion or lack of clarification.]
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Officials in this Piedmont city are believed to be the first to ignore North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment and have said they are currently recognizing all married couples — gay or straight — for the purposes of employee health benefits.
In a letter to city employees on Aug. 28, Winston-Salem’s human resources director, Carmen Caruth, said the city would recognize all legal marriage licenses from any state or other U.S. jurisdiction. That includes both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Employees are now eligible to enroll their spouses and children in all city employee benefits.
LGBT advocates in the state believe it’s the first time a city or other jurisdiction in the state has fully recognized legal, out-of-state same-sex marriages. Other municipalities have had domestic partner benefit programs for some time, but none have gone as far as Winston-Salem, accepting married LGBT couples in the pre-existing definition for spouses of employees.
“This means that if you are currently married to someone of the same sex, and have a valid marriage license from any state or U.S. jurisdiction, you can enroll your same sex spouse and children in all city benefits …” Caruth told employees in the letter, according to The Winston-Salem Journal.
Winston-Salem currently does not offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. City Council members are expected to discuss a new plan in a Council community development, housing and general government committee meeting on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, legally married couples regardless of gender can enroll their spouses during a special enrollment period ending Oct. 31.
Several weeks ago, City Attorney Angela Carmon had been unsure what to do with a new domestic partner plan.But, Caruth was convinced after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in July overturning Virginia’s similar anti-gay constitutional amendment and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to no longer defend North Carolina’s similar ban.
“What the city attorney indicated was that she felt comfortable with us going ahead and covering any marriage where there was a marriage license,” City Manager Lee Garrity told the Journal.
In light of the decision, Garrity said he would argue against a separate domestic partner plan, which could be more expensive.
qnotes reached out to anti-LGBT amendment leader Tami Fitzgerlad, of the North Carolina Values Coalition, for comment. She didn’t return our message, but her group did send an email to Coalition supporters on Sept. 9.
“Lawlessness only begets more lawlessness. Here’s the proof,” the group wrote in its message to supporters. “This weekend we learned that Attorney General Roy Cooper’s refusal to defend the North Carolina Marriage Amendment and statutes has inspired the City of Winston-Salem to begin recognizing same-sex ‘marriages’ performed in other states.”
The group added, “Although no court of law has found North Carolina’s marriage statutes and Marriage Amendment to be unconstitutional, the City of Winston-Salem has taken it upon themselves to do the dirty work. In so doing, they are openly violating the laws and Constitution of our State.”