Benefits and Compensation

N.C. Voters Nix Same-sex Marriage: Implications for Employers

Photo by flickr user Joe Gratz used under a Creative Commons license.

Employers in North Carolina will not face the complications their counterparts in states where same-sex marriage is legal or recognized do, but local and municipal governments that provide domestic partner benefits may have to change their policies. Tar Heel State voters on May 8 approved an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as occurring between a man and a woman. The amendment also prohibits civil unions.

The North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives approved the proposed amendment in September 2011, and the voters did so on May 8, with 61 percent voting for it.

The measure amends Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution by adding Section 6 to it. Section 6 says: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

The amendment does not break new ground, since same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. But the amendment makes that part of the state constitution, making it less likely that position will be overturned. And by saying that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state,” the amendment means that civil unions will not be legal in North Carolina.

What this Means 

The new amendment to the North Carolina constitution reemphasizes that employers in North Carolina will not have to adjust their policies, plans and documents to accommodate or provide for same-sex spouses.

Employers may, however, offer benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees who enter into those marriages in states where it is legal — the amendment does not prevent that. Employers also may provide benefits that are not taxable to employees’ same-sex spouses. But the amendment does mean that it remains the case that for purposes of state taxation, if an employer in North Carolina provides coverage in a health and welfare plan to the same-sex spouse of an employee, that coverage is taxable income to that employee.

The amendment may have consequences for the governments of communities and counties in North Carolina that provide benefits to the domestic partners of their employees. These include the cities of Asheville, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham, and the counties of Durham, Mecklenburg and Orange.

More information about same-sex marriage is available in Thompson Publishing Group’s Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.