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Legal status of same-sex unions
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North Carolina does not legally recognize any same-sex union, including civil unions and same-sex marriages. State statute 51-1.2 states that "marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina." [1] There is currently no constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions at this time. The are some cities and counties in North Carolina with domestic partnership registries which allows public employees to extend benefits to their partners. A constitutional amendment will be on the May 8, 2012 primary ballot seeking to define marriage between a man and a woman as the only domestic legal union valid and recognized by the state of North Carolina [2].

Civil Unions[edit]

North Carolina does not recognize same-sex civil unions under state statute 51-1.2. However, in an Elon University poll 29.1% would support civil unions or partnerships for same-sex couples, and 37.5% would support full marriage rights for same-sex couples. [3] Even though there is strong support for civil unions, a proposed constitutional amendment would prevent the establishment of civil unions in the future [4]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

Though the state of North Carolina as a whole does not recognize domestic partnerships, there are some cities and counties in the United States offering a domestic partnership registry. Holders of the registration will only be acknowledged as having entered the agreement by the jurisdiction that the holders originally registered with. These registries allow the extension of health benefits to public employees and their domestic partners. The cities and counties in North Carolina with domestic partner registries are the following:

Chapel Hill[edit]

Chapel Hill allows registration of domestic partnerships. The general policy reads as follows:

Registration of Domestic Partners

To register as a domestic partner, you will need to set up an appointment with our office at 919-968-2743. Have a valid photo, proof that you meet the requirements in the definition of a domestic partner (e.g. rental agreement with both names), and the $50 fee in cash or check. Domestic partners of the same or opposite gender may register their partnership in the Town Clerk's Office on the middle floor of Town Hall[5].

The definition of "domestic partner" in the official ordinance for the city of Chapel Hill reads as follows:

Be it ordained by the Town Council of Chapel Hill that the Council amends Chapter 1 of the Town Code as follows:

Section 1
Add to Section 1-2, Definitions and rules of construction, a new paragraph in appropriate alphabetical order to read as follows:
Domestic partners. Two individuals who have reached the age of majority and live together in a long-term relationship of indefinite duration, with an exclusive mutual commitment in which the partners share the necessities of life and are financially interdependent. Also, domestic partners are not married to anyone else, do not have another domestic partner and are not related by blood more closely than would bar their marriage in this State.
Section 2
This ordinance shall be effective upon adoption [6].


Carrboro town code reads as follows:

Section 3-2.1 Town Clerk to Accept Statements of Domestic Partnerships (Amend. 9/13/94, effective 10/11/94)

(a) A domestic partnership shall exist between two persons if the persons file a statement of domestic partnership as prescribed in subsection (b), and each of the declarations made in this statement as required under subsection (b) is true.
(b) The town clerk shall accept and keep on record statements of domestic partnership filed by persons who are residents of the Town of Carrboro or at least one of whom is an employee of the Town of Carrboro. Such statements shall be in the form of an affidavit prescribed by the town and shall contain the signatures of two persons who state under oath that such persons


In 2003 Durham became the third city to allow domestic partner benefits to employees.[8]


On Feb. 22, 2011, City Council of Asheville (Buncombe County), authorized the creation of a Domestic Partner Registry to recognize same-sex relationships, becoming the first city in Western North Carolina (WNC) to do so. The registry became available on May 2, 2011.

The City Clerk's office requires the following:
After payment of the $45 fee, applicants must bring the receipt to the City Clerk’s Office, located in room 202 on the second floor of City Hall. Both applicants must be present and must show a driver’s license or other valid form of photo identification.
Both parties will sign an affidavit, which is a public record..[9]


City of Greensboro began offering domestic partner benefits in 2007 [10]. The town council was initially concerned that by offering domestic partner benefits they would be in violation of North Carolina's crimes against nature law as well as federal equal protection laws if they offered those benefits to same-sex couples and not unmarried heterosexual couples[11].


Mecklenburg County passed policy allowing domestic partner benefits for county employees and their partners in December of 2009[12]. The approved plan will define “domestic partners” as two same-sex people in a “spousal like” and “exclusive, mutually committed” relationship in which both “share the necessities of life and are financially interdependent[13]

Orange County[edit]

In 2003 Orange County, North Carolina Commissioners approved a measure to extend benefits to domestic partners of county empoyees[14]. Benefits available include dependent health, dental, life, retiree health insurance, funeral leave, sick leave, shared leave and family leave of absence[14]. The estimated cost for 1% of Orange County (or 7 employees) to participate in domestic partner benefits was $17,000 for the County's contribution[15].

Six color rainbow gay pride flag flying above Castro Street, San Francisco, California, June 2005. Photo by Justin J.W. Powell.

Amendment One[edit]

A bill proposing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as well as civil unions was passed (Senate Bill 514) by the NC House of Representatives on September 12, 2011 and by the NC Senate one day later on September 13, 2011.[2] The constitutional amendment will appear on the May 8, 2012 primary ballot for public vote. If approved by a majority of voters, a new section will be added under Article 14 of the NC Constitution.[16]

The new section will read:
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[17].

The May 8th ballot will read:
[ ] For [ ] Against
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State[18].

Potential Implications[edit]

In a study by Maxine Eichner, Barbara Fedders, Holnin Lau, and Rachel Blunk of the UNC School of Law, the authors discuss how the wording in the proposed amendment can have legal implications beyond banning marriage between same-sex couples [19]. It's difficult to determine how the courts will interpret the amendment based on the broad and untested language it contains [19]. The following subsections attempt to discuss the possible impacts that are most commonly debated.


Some say that unmarried couples and their children that are receiving domestic partner benefits as public employees will no longer be eligible for those benefits[20]. The second sentence in the amendment seeks to address this issue by continuing to allow private party contracts between employees and employers. For example, a private company could agree to extend health benefits to employees and their partners [21] However, since "domestic legal union" is untested language in the courts, the issue will likely face litigation to determine what the actual meaning will be and how it will be implemented[22]


In addition to restricting benefits to couples in domestic partnerships, the amendment could also strip protections for unmarried couples such as domestic violence and stalking protections[20]. If the courts determine that the language used in the amendment invalidates protections for unmarried couples it could harm domestic violence protections for that population[23]. After passing a similar constitutional amendment in Ohio, several courts ruled that domestic violence protections did not apply to unmarried couples and cases were dismissed or told not to press charges [23]. The courts could determine that validation of unmarried couples domestic legal union status would violate the amendment [19]. However, the counter argument is that North Carolina's domestic violence statutes are better defined and include protections for unmarried couples [4].

North Carolina Statute 50B-1, Domestic Violence, states:

(b) For purposes of this section, the term "personal relationship" means a relationship wherein the parties involved:
(1) Are current or former spouses;
(2) Are persons of opposite sex who live together or have lived together;
(3) Are related as parents and children, including others acting in loco parentis to a minor child, or as grandparents and grandchildren. For purposes of this subdivision, an aggrieved party may not obtain an order of protection against a child or grandchild under the age of 16;
(4) Have a child in common;
(5) Are current or former household members;
(6) Are persons of the opposite sex who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship. For purposes of this subdivision, a dating relationship is one wherein the parties are romantically involved over time and on a continuous basis during the course of the relationship. A casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context is not a dating relationship,[24].

Adoption and child visitation protections are also in question. While North Carolina only allows adoption by one unmarried adult[4] there are cases where children are adopted by two unmarried adults (including same-sex couples) in other states and are now living in North Carolina. Since those relationships would not be recognized if Amendment One passes, there could be serious consequences. In Potential Legal Impacts of the Proposed Same Sex Marriage Amendment, the authors conclude that in child custody disputes "judges may interpret [amendment one] as an expression of public policy against all non-marital relationships. This interpretation may cause judges to view such relationships as having a per se negative impact on a child, and fashion custody orders accordingly[19]. They also say that in custody disputes between a parent and non-parent the courts could decide that the relationship is impermissable since it would validate a domestic legal union other than heterosexual marriage [19]. Some amendment supporters argue that children do best in families with heterosexual marriages [25]. As with the other protections in question it seems that the courts will have to decide what the actual interpretation and implementation will be in this area.

Other areas of protection that are under question include hospital visitation, emergency medicals decisions, and disposition of deceased partner's remains [20] Although there are legal documents that can help protect medical and financial security (power of attorney, living will, medical power of attorney), these could be contested in court based on the argument that they recognize a domestic legal union between the two parties [19]. Issues in estate planning could arise through increased litigation contesting wills of unmarried individuals, particularly those in same-sex relationships [19]. Again, the courts could rule that any recognition of a domestic legal union between unmarried partners would be unconstitutional and therefore rule those wills and trusts invalid [19].

economic development[edit]

In addition to legal implications, there is concern that if the amendment passes it would harm economic development and vitality. Some feel that business's employee recruitment and retention will be hurt if the most talented prospects don't feel that North Carolina is progressive or representative of their beliefs[26]. Since many Fortune 500 companies have a policy preventing discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation they may feel that North Carolina doesn't project the image that they stand for[26].

Public Opinion[edit]

In a poll released by Elon University on April 2, 2012,[27] 29.1% of those polled support civil unions or registered partnerships providing most of the rights found in a civil marriage, and 37.5% of those polled support full marriage rights for same-sex couples. 29.2% oppose any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. The survey results over time are as follows[27]:

Elon University Poll: April 2, 2012[27]

Which statement comes closest to your position on the issue March 2012 February 2012 November 2011 September 2011
Oppose any legal recognition for same sex couples 29.2% 31.9% 34.5% 34.4%
Support civil unions or partnerships for same sex couples, but not full rights 29.1% 27.8% 26.4% 28.6%
Full marriage rights for same sex couples 37.5% 35.8% 33.0% 33.0%
Some other opinion 2.1% 1.7% 2.9% 2.2%
Don't know 1.3% 1.9% 2.5% 1.7%
Refused 0.9% 0.9% 0.6% 0.2%

Public Policy Polling surveyed 520 North Carolina voters from September 1st to 4th, 2011 and received the following results:

Public Policy Poll: September 7, 2011[28]

Do you think same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal? Their Opinion
Legal 31%
Illegal 61%
Not sure 8%
Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage? Their Opinion
Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry 25%
Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry 29%
There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship 43%
Not sure 3%
State legislators are trying to pass a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit the recognition of marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships for LGBT couples. If the election was held today, how would you vote for this amendment? Their Opinion
Would vote for it 30%
Would vote against it 55%
Not sure 15%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chapter 51- Article 1". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Senate Bill 514 "Defense of Marriage"". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Elon University Poll April 2, 2012". Archived from the original (PDF) on April 19, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Brittany Darst (April 20, 2012). "Amendment One- Fact and Fiction". Archived from the original on April 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Town of Chapel Hill: General Policies". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Town of Chapel Hill: Domestic Partnership". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Carrboro Town Code: Chapter 3". Archived from the original (PDF) on April 19, 2012.  |section= ignored (help)
  8. ^ "Durham Votes to Allow Benefits for Domestic Partners". April 7, 2003. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Domestic Partner Registry available May 2". April 27, 2011. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  10. ^ "May North Carolina Local Government Employers Offer Domestic Partner Benefits?" (PDF). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. November 2009. Retrieved April 4, 2012. In North Carolina, only Durham and Orange counties, the cities of Durham and Greensboro, and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro offer domestic partner benefits. 
  11. ^ "Greensboro to move forward on domestic partnership benefits". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  12. ^ "North Carolina County Passes Domestic Partner Benefits Despite Defamatory Comments From Commissioner Bill James". Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2012. 
  13. ^ Matt Comer (December 16, 2009). "Mecklenburg commissioners approve DP benefits". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b "Orange County, NC to offer partner benefits". December 1, 2003. Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Orange County Commission Agenda Action Items". September 21, 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2012. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "SL2011-0409". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Wording for NC marriage amendment released ahead of May election". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  19. ^ "North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment Fact Sheet". Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2012. 
  20. ^ Mark Geary (April 18, 2012). "Understanding North Carolina's Proposed Amendment One". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Lila Shapiro (April 9, 2012). "Same-Sex Marriage: North Carolina's Proposed Ban, Amendment One, Could Create 'Legal Chaos'". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Chapter 50B". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  23. ^ "North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment Fact Sheet". Archived from the original|archive-url= requires |url= (help) on April 21, 2012.  Text " " ignored (help);
  24. ^ a b "Biz Owners: Amendment one could harm business economic development". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  25. ^ a b c "Elon University Poll: April 2, 2012". Archived from the original (PDF) on April 19, 2012. 
  26. ^ Public Policy Polling: "NC against gay marriage, but also marriage amendment," September 7, 2011, accessed September 7, 2011

External links[edit]

Category:North Carolina law Category:Recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States|North Carolina Category:LGBT rights in North Carolina