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Some Would Lose Health Coverage Under Amendment One

On May 8th, North Carolinians will vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage and civil unions. Opponents of Amendment One claim the measure would have far-reaching consequences for gay and straight families alike. One claim is that some unmarried people and their children could lose health care coverage. Isaac-Davy Aronson reports for our series examining the arguments over Amendment One.

Isaac-Davy Aronson: Here's one thing on which both sides of the debate over Amendment One agree: if the amendment passes, domestic partner benefits offered by several city and local governments in North Carolina will be nullified. That's because the amendment prohibits the recognition of any "domestic legal union" other than a marriage between a man and a woman. Same-sex and opposite-sex partners and their children covered under those benefits would lose them.

Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the pro-amendment group Vote for Marriage NC, says there's an easy fix.

Tami Fitzgerald: They will have to change the structure upon which they offer those benefits, and the most likely structure would be a third-party designated beneficiary where the employee can designate any third party. But that actually makes the benefits more fair.

Not everyone agrees on how feasible that kind of change would be. UNC law professor Maxine Eichner authored a study of the potential impact of the amendment.

Maxine Eichner: The constitutionality of looking for a way around the amendment seems pretty dubious.

Eichner says, based on the legal battles that have played out in other states with marriage amendments, it's impossible to say that rewritten benefits rules would pass legal muster.

Jen Jones of the anti-amendment group Protect All NC Families says it's a bad idea either way.

Jen Jones: If we're saying that children, yes, will lose their health care under this scenario, but maybe down the road, local government can work around it some way -- no, I'm worried about children today.

Jones and Eichner say there's too much uncertainty about the amendment's potential effects. Fitzerald, of the pro-amendment coalition, says opponents of Amendment One are trying to scare voters with a lot of "what-if"s.

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