N.C.'s New Gay Marriage Ban Leaves Couples In Limbo Courts may have to decide if North Carolina localities that offer domestic partner benefits to employees must cease the practice, now that voters have passed a statewide ban on same-sex marriage. Those receiving the benefits also are unsure whether they will continue.
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N.C.'s New Gay Marriage Ban Leaves Couples In Limbo

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N.C.'s New Gay Marriage Ban Leaves Couples In Limbo

N.C.'s New Gay Marriage Ban Leaves Couples In Limbo

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. In North Carolina, cities and counties that offer domestic partner benefits to employees are in limbo. Earlier this month, voters in the state passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In some other states, such amendments have led to the end of domestic partner benefits for public workers. From North Carolina Public Radio, Jessica Jones reports.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: Ever since voters approved the constitutional amendment, Libby Hodges has worried about what could happen to her family's health coverage. But she's trying to put on a good face for her 4-year-old daughter, Moira.

LIBBY HODGES: I told you something sad today too didn't I, when you asked if we won?

MOIRA HODGES: Yeah. You didn't?

HODGES: No. But I said that's OK 'cause sometimes it just happens that way. Like when you play a soccer game.

HODGES: Yeah. If I lose or win it's OK.

HODGES: Yeah.

JONES: Libby works for the city of Durham, one of nine local governments across the state offering domestic partner benefits. Moira is on her insurance plan. But since Libby isn't the little girl's biological mom, that benefit could end. Libby's partner, Melissa Hodges, who gave birth to Moira, could add their daughter to her insurance plan. That would cost an extra $500 dollars per month - a big hit to their budget. Melissa says they may have to move to a state where domestic partner benefits are assured.

MELISSA HODGES: I'm going to stay on the lookout for jobs in all these various different places - in Connecticut, in Massachusetts, in Maryland. I was looking back at the list today of which states do we have all the same benefits and rights, or at least as close as we can get.

JONES: Legal experts say same-sex couples have reason to worry about these plans ending. Holning Lau is a professor at the University of North Carolina Law School. He studies how legal issues, including amendments like North Carolina's, affect non-traditional families.

HOLNING LAU: They create grounds for those who oppose these programs to challenge these programs in court. In addition, they do create a chilling effect on local governments considering passing domestic partner benefits.

JONES: In states that have passed amendments like North Carolina's, benefits for same-sex couples have dwindled. In Michigan, some public employers offered programs allowing employees to add anyone to their insurance, but state lawmakers ended that workaround for everyone except those in the university system. The attorney generals of Kentucky and Idaho have issued opinions saying domestic partner benefits are unconstitutional. That could happen in North Carolina too.

BOB HAGEMANN: We don't know what this amendment means and how it might apply to domestic partner benefits.

JONES: Bob Hagemann is the attorney for the City of Charlotte, which was considering offering domestic partner benefits before the amendment passed.

HAGEMANN: Ultimately, even with an attorney general's opinion, ultimately the decision is going to have to be resolved in our state courts.

JONES: Charlotte's city council has requested an opinion from North Carolina's attorney general. Officials in Winston-Salem, who've been interested in offering domestic partner benefits, are waiting to hear too. Local governments that currently provide the benefits are continuing for the moment. No one has filed suit yet, and city attorneys say without case law to follow, they're in limbo. So are Melissa and Libby Hodges, the couple whose child may lose her benefits. Libby says they moved here from Georgia after that state passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004.

HODGES: How far do we have to keep going? Why do we have to keep running from state to state just to try to get the very basic, you know, rights to exist as a family unit?

JONES: Libby says as a native Southerner, she hates to think about leaving the region she loves. But she says she may have to, to take care of her family. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina.

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