Domestic partner vote overshadowed by 'homo' comment

Mecklenburg County will offer domestic partner benefits in 2011 to employees in same-sex relationships, under a plan approved Tuesday night by county commissioners.

The board vote split 6-3 along party lines to begin offering the benefits during its next open enrollment period, which would start next fall.

The meeting was marked by an acrimonius exchange between commissioners Vilma Leake and Bill James, over a remark that James appeared to have made about Leake's son.

Leake, a Democrat, spoke about her son dying of AIDS.

"I did not know that in 2010 that I would be sitting here to defend . . . his lifestyle."

According to WBTV, Republican commissioner Bill James leaned over and responded: "Your son was a homo, really?" His remarks were not made into the microphone on his desk, but it could be heard in the audio coverage of the meeting.

Leake then was heard to respond, "Don't make me hurt you. Don't do that to me. Don't talk to me about my son."

Democratic commissioners said the change could help the county recruit and retain workers who are in same-sex relationships by offering them the same benefits given to married, heterosexual workers.

The board's three Republicans opposed the policy, saying there appeared to be no demonstrated demand among county workers for the benefits and that offering them could violate state laws against cohabitation.

The commissioners' vote came after nearly two hours of discussion, including comments from about a dozen residents. The debate was broken up occasionally by cheers from audience members.