A week after the passage of Amendment One, declaring “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina, its impacts on everything from domestic partner benefits to protections for unmarried couples remain unclear, with both local and state legal experts scrambling to make sense of the new rule.
“Nobody knows anything for certain,” Cheryl Howell, a professor of public law at the UNC School of Government, tells Xpress. “Nobody has any idea what that language means, it’s going to be a matter for the courts to sort out.”
“The language of the amendment uses that term ‘domestic legal union’” Howell adds. “The issue is that we have no law in the state that defines the term ‘domestic legal union,’ so there’s this prohibition of the state recognizing a domestic legal union and the only thing we know about that term is that it includes marriage. What it means beyond marriage will be up to the court to determine.”
“I work with our district court judges, and there’s a lot of issues coming up with regards to marriage and domestic violence” Howell also notes.
The city of Asheville currently offers domestic partner benefits and a domestic partner registry, as well as a variety of protections for LGBT employees, including the use of sick time to care for “significant others.” The partner benefits are recent, and no city employees have signed up for them yet. Like Howell, City Attorney Bob Oast says the effects are largely unknown.
“We are considering the effect of it, that involves me talking to folks from the School of Government and to attorneys at other localities with similar benefits,” Oast tells Xpress. “We don’t have any answers yet.”