Future of domestic partner benefits hazy

Cities and towns say they're still trying to decide what to do with domestic partner programs now that an amendment defining marriage is part of the constitution.

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Mark Binker
As the constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions goes into effect today, North Carolina cities and towns are considering what impact the amendment will have on domestic partner benefits they offer employees. While private companies are likely untouched by the amendment, cities and counties are creatures of state government and many legal experts believe they will be prohibited from offering domestic partner benefits due to the fact the constitution now bans recognition of legal unions other than marriage.

Nine local governments in the state offer domestic partner benefits: Orange, Mecklenburg and Durham counties, and the cities of Durham, Hillsborough, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Asheville and Greensboro.

Officials in cities such as Winston-Salem and Charlotte say they want to hear from the courts before deciding whether to institute domestic partner benefits. 

As for local governments that already offer benefits, little seems to be changing for the time being. Officials in Durham County said before the amendment passed their program will continue regardless. Other governments with similar programs say they're taking a wait and see approach.

"There's been no change to what we're offering our employees in terms of benefits," said Catherine Lazorko, a spokeswoman for the Town of Chapel Hill. Lawyers for the city are researching the impact of the amendment, she said, but no decision has been made.

"We're aware there's an issue and we're trying to figure out how to respond to it," Carrboro Town Attorney Mike Brough said. 

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