Winston-Salem mulls recognizing gay marriages from other states

Gay pride parade

The city’s proposal to extend benefits to the same-sex partners and children of city employees may include a provision to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Under the proposal, the city would provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners such as medical, dental and vision coverage, voluntary long-term care and employee assistance.

The proposal also would allow same-sex couples to take sick leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Domestic partners would have access to survivors’ benefits and could be listed as 401(k) beneficiaries.

The city’s community-development, housing and general-government committee discussed the proposal Tuesday at its meeting in City Hall. Three people, including a Liz Vennum, a city employee, told the committee they supported the proposal.

Winston-Salem City Council member Molly Leight, the committee’s chairwoman, instructed City Attorney Angela Carmon to add the gay-marriage recognition provision to the proposal, which would apply only to city employees.

Leight and council members Jeff McIntosh and Denise Adams, who serve on the committee, said they support overall proposal.

They didn’t discuss the new provision.

Carmon wrote the initial proposal at the request of several council members. Carmon referred a question about which council members asked for the proposal to Council member Dan Besse, another committee member. After the meeting, Besse said he and Leight asked for the proposal.

Under the current proposal, a city employee and his or her domestic partner would be required to sign an affidavit stating they are of the same sex and not legally married or in civil union with another person. Carmon said that those affidavits would allow employees to claim their spouses as their dependents, and the employees and their partners would be eligible for city benefits.

“I tried to focus on dependent status rather than focusing on marriages from another state,” Carmon told the committee.

However, Besse said he favored the new provision and asked the committee to include it in the proposal.

Besse said that increasing numbers of Winston-Salem residents may come from states that recognize gay marriages or have traveled to such states to legally marry.

Carmen Caruth, the city’s human resources director, said Monday she doesn’t know how many city employees would be affected by the proposal.

The Campaign for Southern Equality, a gay-rights organization, said there are 618 same-sex couples living in Winston-Salem. The organization supports the city’s proposal.

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. recognizes same-sex marriage and civil unions among gay couples, Besse said. And courts in nine states have struck down bans on same-sex unions, he said.

In May 2012, North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the N.C. Constitution that reinforced a state law banning same-sex couples from getting married. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, leading the federal government to begin recognizing same-sex marriages.

Besse believes that state’s marriage amendment doesn’t prevent city officials from recognizing gay marriages and civil unions legally conducted in other states.

Carmon said that supporters of the marriage amendment could sue the city if it recognized gay marriages and civil unions that are not legally recognized in North Carolina.

“There comes a point at which fear of being sued interferes with our duty of fair treatment for all our citizens,” Besse said. “I think we have reached that point that here.”

If the city council approves the proposal, it would take affect Jan. 1. Carmon said the revised proposal should be ready for the committee to consider in August or September.

The full council could consider the measure in October or November, Besse said.

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