Equality or sacrilege? Community weighs in on partner benefits for county employees

After a tense March 19 public hearing, the Buncombe County commissioners narrowly approved extending benefits to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners of county employees. During that hearing, over 35 members of the public weighed in with their thoughts; about half of the speakers were for the measure and about half of them were against it.

Here’s a look at some of what supporters and detractors had to say:

Fred English
“I don’t want my taxpayer money going for things like this. … I’ve been a resident of Buncombe County all my life. … Now I’m almost ashamed to tell anybody I am from Asheville. … What you do behind closed doors is your own business, but I don’t think I should have to pay for what other people do.”
— Fred English, Buncombe County resident

Lauren Biehl
“We are not talking about a religious issue. We are not talking about a marriage issue. We are talking about an issue of health and protections and equality and basic human rights for employees and their partners.”
— Lauren Biehl, Buncombe County Youth Services librarian

Ronald Gates
“This proposal is not a total voice of the people of Buncombe County. And it is not in the best interests to our biblical principles and moral standards in which the people and the nation, the people and the nation, were founded on.”
— the Rev. Ronald Gates, Greater Works Church; president, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville

Yvonne Cook-Riley
“The equality of human experience is coming your way. Changes are being made nationally and need to be made locally, and you are on the cutting edge of setting that example. … Buncombe County, the city of Asheville, show us that they’re kind, not only to employees but to the taxpayers and the citizens.”
— Yvonne Cook-Riley, part-time worker, Buncombe County Board of Elections

Wendell Runion
“The county has deep Christian roots, with a history of strong biblical values. … As a Bible-believing Christian … I believe the board would be giving a big slap to the face of the people of Buncombe County. We realize that the domestic-partner benefits policy and its wording is only a smoke screen for gay rights. You’re re-defining our Judeo-Christian heritage and what a family is.”
— the Rev. Wendell Runion, International Baptist Outreach Missions

Joe Hoffman
“I understand the Scriptures in a different way than my fellow clergy have spoken of tonight. I’m very proud to be part of a tradition that, nationally, has spoken out that all people are equal of honor and respect. To respect someone, I don’t just think we say, ‘We’re not going to say mean words to you,’ that ‘We’re not going to cut you down.’ But that we will offer the same benefits, the same privileges to everybody. … We’re a community of many religious traditions and no religious traditions. We’re a plural community. And it’s in that plurality that we are the great county that we are.”
— the Rev. Joe Hoffman, First Congregational United Church of Christ

Phillip Wilson
“Whether it’s between a man and a woman shacking up, or whether it’s two men or women shacking up, in the word of God, God calls it sin. … Marriage is an institution ordained and recognized by God almighty, and he alone has the authority to set its parameters, and he has defined it as a union between one man and one woman. And those that chose to live contrary to this order, face a disease and riddled lifestyle. … They should not be supported with tax dollars from hard-working, God-fearing citizens. … Keep in mind, you will give an account to the sovereign Lord for your decision, with eternal consequences.”
— the Rev. Phillip Wilson, Browns Chapel Baptist Church

Jasmin Beach-Ferrara
“Anyone who lives in the county encounters county employees in a whole range of ways. And I would like to think that people who are literally, in some cases, putting their lives on the line for our community should know that the county has their back. … I’m proud to see the county considering adopting a policy that is in line with best practices in the private sector and, increasingly, in the public sector.”
— the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director, Campaign for Southern Equality


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7 thoughts on “Equality or sacrilege? Community weighs in on partner benefits for county employees

  1. lmehaffey

    Interesting — as a question (if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t ask): do “domestic partners” have a legalized contractual agreement between them which is recognized by the state and used as the basis for allocating the benefits at issue? If so, fine; if not, then how can the County legitimately extend these benefits? Any lawyers out there who can address this?

    • Gilbert

      lmehaffey, their doesn’t have to be a state recoginized contract in order for the county to provide these benefits. This has nothing to do with marriage. This is strictly about health benefits, the county can allow the employees whatever with their benefits to my knowledge if that’s how the board votes.

      If the employees are able to prove and maintain the requirements set forth by the commission they will be able to give their partners insurance. So yes, the county can legitimately do this for their employees.

  2. Ascend (of Asheville)

    There is not a hint of equality in the Christian tradition, so why is the Mountain X framing this as an opposition? Every aspect of equality in any form is a “sacriledge” from the point of view of the church.
    That good, upstanding citizens are still willing to stand up and demand we live by the rules set out in a third century interpretation of ancient middle eastern orthodoxy should be an occasion for public outrage.
    And for an alleged news organization to go out of its way to give these sad social outliers a public voice so they can perpetuate their sick views should be a cause for public consternation.

    • Margaret Williams

      Ascend, we report as accurately as we can what was said and what actions were taken at local government meetings. To exclude a significant portion of the public remarks would go against this journalistic imperative.

      Further, two key aspects of our mission call for including and respecting divergent views:

  3. lmehaffey

    Thanks, Gilbert — that question has had me puzzled for a while. I assumed that it would be more like the situation with a private insurance company, where anyone identified as qualified for Family Coverage has to be proven, by birth certificate, marriage license, or civil union license, to be legally contractible. The County must either offer its own insurance and benefits package (limited by the amount of local tax revenues available, since using state tax revenues for this purpose would probably have to be approved at the State level) or the policy coverage agreement with their provider can be crafted by the County (much like Alabama’s PEEHIP – Public Education Employee’s Health Insurance Provider – coverage agreements. Thanks again.

  4. lmehaffey


    Exactly. It’s tough to be fair, but it’s the honest thing to do.

  5. tomccash

    I gladly give you my tax money to support benefits for domestic parter benefits. It’s funny how we Christains forget the scripture that says to not oppress the foreigner and the outcast. Jesus, a friend to the fringe and one who resisted the religious !

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