CommunityPam's House Blend

Will Charlotte/Mecklenburg County offer domestic partner benefits?

Weighing in: Jennifer Roberts is a strong supporter of anti-discrimination laws and partner benefits; Park Helms is also leading the charge to bring the County into the 21st century. One the other side, Bill James sides with the bible-beating crowd with true wingnuttery: “If the Democrats want to swim in the moral sewer, they’re entitled to do that and pay the consequences next year at the polls.”

Mecklenburg County, which includes the banking metropolis of Charlotte, is still a conservative area of North Carolina (a Blend reader noted that it went Blue in 2004, so there is clearly a shift occurring). While many of the large companies in the area do offer domestic partner benefits, it’s still another thing to push for the County to adopt them. The county commissioners are about to take on a PR battle for sure, even though they have the votes to pass it. There’s a great article today in the Charlotte Observer by Carrie Levine that takes the political temperature there. [Go to the Observer site, they have a poll running that we should Freep, “Same sex benefits for Mecklenburg County employees?”. “No” is currently winning 51% to 49% so your vote will count!]

Mecklenburg County should consider offering domestic-partner benefits and protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, county commissioners Chairman Parks Helms said Sunday. “There is no reason to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation,” Helms said. Helms, a Democrat, said he would likely wait until the county budget process is complete in June before taking the issue to the board.

Bringing up this issue will set off a fiery debate over morals and community values, Republican county commissioner Bill James said. “If the Democrats want to swim in the moral sewer, they’re entitled to do that and pay the consequences next year at the polls,” James said. James said Democrats, who have a 6-3 majority on the county board, have the right to set policy. But he said bringing this issue to the board would create a debate on the same scale as a late-1990s brouhaha over public funding for the arts.

…Helms said James’ comments don’t “deserve my response. I have said what I believe, and I have said what I believe is right, and it will be up to this board and this community to ultimately determine who we are.” Helms said treating all employees equally and preventing discrimination is “a human rights issue.” “The more we try to make it a partisan issue, the more irresponsible we become,” he said.

As of last year in North Carolina, Durham, Carrboro and Chapel Hill, as well as Durham and Orange counties, offered domestic-partner benefits.

…Commissioners ranked diversity at a much higher priority than in the past when they selected their budget priorities this year, moving it from close to the bottom of the list to an upper tier.

County commissioner Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat who said diversity is a high priority for her, said she would support adding sexual orientation to the county’s antidiscrimination policies. As for offering benefits, she said the county should study what comparable governments and local companies are doing. Both she and Helms said they believe many of Charlotte’s largest companies offer the benefit, although James said he does not believe many purely local companies do so.

“A (board) majority would be willing to look at it. I don’t know how the votes would come out. That depends on what we find when we look at it,” she said. Roberts said she would also want to hear public opinion on the idea.

Norman Mitchell will go for the plan as long as the benefits are in line with what is offered by the private sector; Jim Puckett wouldn’t vote for domestic partner benefits and thinks it’s “a lame idea from the cost perspective.”

Commissioner Norman Mitchell, a Democrat, said he has no problem offering the benefits if they are in line with benefits offered by the private sector. “I think we just have to move with the times,” he said, adding that “Christ didn’t discriminate.” Two other county commissioners, Democrat Dumont Clarke and Republican Dan Bishop, declined to comment. Republican Jim Puckett said he considers the suggestion “a lame idea from the cost perspective,” since the county is facing a budget gap. Puckett said he does not believe government should legislate morality, but would not vote to expand the county’s benefits package unless driven to do so by the market.

The bottom line is that all the religious wingnuts are going to come out of the woodwork to slam these brave Dems that are stepping up to the plate to do the right thing.

To give you an idea of how tense the situation is in the area, in February, more than 1,300 HRC members came to Charlotte to promote LGBT rights, and Mayor Pat McCrory didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat. Even though all those gay dollars were being spent in the city, the mayor refused to send a letter of welcome — the silence was deafening.

McCrory had been under pressure from the fundy group Operation Save America (led by Rev. Philip L. (Flip) Benham) to restrict the use of public parks, specifically targeting Charlotte Pride. OSA was proud to say that “the battle for the culture in the city of Charlotte has just begun.” In March, the permit to hold Pride in a public park was granted, but McCrory continued pandering to the Religious Right: “I do not want that festival in a park setting,” he said. “If they need to do it, I think it belongs in a hotel” or other private setting.

The fact of the matter is that voices of support need to be heard. The votes may be there, but there could be hell to pay if the freeptards decide to jump in with their pious guns blazing.

* Details About Domestic Partner Benefits
* HRC’s list of state and municipal governments that offer DPB | FAQs
* AHI’s Employment Law Resource Center on DPB

County Commissioners
At Large:
Parks Helms 704-372-4884
Wilhelmenia Rembert 704-336-2641
Jennifer Roberts 704-336-2574

1 – Jim Puckett 704-363-1379
2 – Norman A. Mitchell, Sr. 704-399-3061
3 – Valerie Woodard 704-537-8958
4 – Dumont Clarke 704-331-1051
5 – Dan Bishop 704-716-1202
6 – Bill James 704-336-2573

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Pam Spaulding

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