CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mecklenburg leaders Tuesday approved medical and leave benefits for the domestic partners of county workers in same-sex relationships.

The vote, split 6-3 down party lines, came after nearly two hours of heated debate and pleas from speakers both opposed and supportive of the measure.

If it s for married people that s okay, said Dr. Charlene Hendricks, one of a half-dozen religious leaders who spoke out against the benefits proposal. For someone who is just living together whether they are homosexual or heterosexual it would not be to the benefit of Charlotte.

Democratic commissioners have argued the benefits should be offered to employees in same-sex relationships as a matter of fairness and to recruit and retain workers.

I m not gay. But I still believe that they have a right to feed their family, said commissioner George Dunlap. I still believe that they are god s creation. I still believe that they are human.

Extending benefits to same-sex partners could cost about $400,000 a year in additional claims, Chris Peek, Mecklenburg's Director of Human Resources told commissioners. The estimate is based on the cost of similar programs in other communities which offer health coverage to domestic partners.

The county is self-insured and paid about $40 million in claims benefits last year, he said.

Republican commissioner Bill James questioned the legality of extending medical insurance to domestic partners and family leave to employees in same-sex relationships.

Similar benefits are offered in Orange and Durham counties, as well as Chapel Hill, Greensboro and Durham.

Mecklenburg will begin offering the coverage to county employees when open enrollment begins next fall.

Read or Share this story: