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December 5, 2003

Cleveland Heights partner registry to open January 26

Cleveland Heights--The city�s new domestic partner registry is scheduled to open on Monday January 26, according to Cleveland Heights Mayor Edward Kelley.

The registry, passed by voter initiative November 4, is the first such registry in Ohio. It is open to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

To register as domestic partners, couples must be at least 18 years old, live together, be financially interdependent and not be related by blood. They do not need to live in Cleveland Heights.

The fee for the registry, set by city manager Robert Downey, will be $50 for city residents, and $65 for non-residents.

Kelley said the fee structure is �consistent with other fees� the city charges, with non-residents paying 30 percent more.

Kelley said Downey, after studying other registries, presented city council with the proposed forms and fee structure December 8.

Because voters approved the ordinance creating the registry, council does not need to vote on any aspect of it. The ordinance gave the city manager the power to design the forms and set the fees.

However, council does need to �codify� the ordinance, or create a section in the city code for it, which it will do at its January 20 meeting with nine or ten other ordinances, said the mayor.

Kelley said the city manager is in the process of working out final details of the plan, including whether termination of the partnership must be done in person or through the mail.

�It is all been subject to law director review,� said Kelley. �It is being done one thousand percent properly, so it would stand up to any legal challenge.�

Kelley said the registry will be handled by the Community Relations office because they handle other records such as birth certificates and death certificates, and they have a notary public. He said he expects the office to be open for partner registry Monday through Friday from 9 am to noon and 1 to 3 pm.

Kelley said the first batch of registrants will need to come to the office and go over the forms with a city worker to be sure everything is in order, but that eventually, the process may be made easier and the forms may be available on the Internet.

First day celebration set

Heights Families for Equality, the group that campaigned for the registry, is organizing a celebration for the couples registering on the first day. It will be in two parts, the first when the registry opens at 9 am in Cleveland Heights City Hall. An evening reception is planned at Jimmy O�Neill�s Tavern, 2195 Lee Rd. (See page 7.)

Election complaint dismissed

The Ohio Elections Commission dismissed a complaint against Heights Families for Equality that was filed by the registry�s lone opponent on city council.

The complaint was filed December 5 by council member Jimmie Hicks, who also opposed a 2002 ordinance extending domestic partner benefits to city employees.

A panel of commission said December 19 that it had found no probable cause for the complaint.

Hicks claimed that an HFE flier incorrectly stated that an elderly widow would lose her husband�s Social Security benefits if she married again.

Hicks said the flyers �were successful in deceiving residents of Cleveland Heights into believing they were righting a wrong that was being done to seniors by the Social Security Administration.�

Hicks attached to the complaint the Social Security rules stating that �you cannot receive survivor benefits if you remarry before the age of 60� but at age 62, �you can collect on your former spouse�s record,� or your current spouse�s benefits, whichever is higher.

�It is widely believed that retirees use domestic partner registries because benefits are affected if they get remarried,� said HFE spokesperson David Caldwell.

The state of California included opposite-sex couples over 62 in its new domestic partner law for this reason.

�HFE is an all-volunteer organization that did what we could to tell the truth about what the registry would and would not do,� said Caldwell, �and the voters rewarded us for it.�

�Sour grapes,� added Caldwell. �The opposition has not gotten over what happened. We have learned a lot about Jimmie Hicks this year, and how he sees himself in public life.�

�Twice the opposition lost,� said Caldwell, �and they have gone immediately to the courts both times.�

After the city worker benefits passed in 2002, opponents circulated petitions to put them on the ballot, but failed to get enough signatures. They then sued, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to lower the number needed. The court ruled against them.

Following the 2002 ruling, Hicks told council, �We lost the battle, but the war isn�t over.�

�All this time, Jimmie Hicks has been saying he wanted to let the people weigh in,� said Caldwell, �and both times, when they did not weigh in what he wanted to hear, they took other steps.�

�It�s vindictive,� said Caldwell.

Hicks said he would not ask the full commission to reconsider his complaint, and at the filing deadline, December 22, he hadn�t.

Hicks said a resident brought the matter to council�s attention.

Kelley confirmed that, adding that the resident�s note was handwritten and submitted after the election.

Kelley was unaware that Hicks had filed the complaint.

Although the elections commission did not rule on the validity of the flyer�s statement, Hicks said that commission head Philip C. Richter told him that it was not correct.

�I am not going to go any further with this,� said Hicks. �Just knowing that the statement is not true is enough for me to know that deceit was going on.�

 

 


Activists declare war on marriage amendment

The push by conservative members of Congress and right-wing political activists to amend the U.S. Constitution to permanently ban same-sex marriage--and perhaps civil unions and domestic partnerships--could inspire a burst of gay activism that rivals such gay milestones as Stonewall and ACT UP, activists and commentators say.

�They�d better think long and hard before they push this because they�re going to have a war on their hands,� Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner told the New York Times. �A real movement for an amendment will electrify this community and bring about an entire new generation of dissent and civil disobedience.�

�The fight against the Federal Marriage Amendment, as this ugly piece of work is nicknamed, is the Gettysburg of the gay rights movement,� declared syndicated commentator Ann Rostow. �It�s all or nothing. Because, if the right to marry is preempted by this constitutional travesty, our life partnerships will remain second-class, morally suspect, extra-legal, unrecognized and unequal for the indefinite future.�

The version of the amendment that has been introduced in Congress reads: �Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.�

The phrase �legal incidents thereof� leads some observers to fear the amendment could not only ban same-sex marriage but may be interpreted by courts as interfering with civil-union and domestic-partnership laws as well. Other observers, however, say the use of the word �require� leaves states free to extend spousal rights to same-sex couples although they can�t be required by a constitution or law to do so.

Amending the U.S. Constitution is difficult. It requires a two-thirds yes vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and ratification by at least 38 state legislatures. But uncertainly over whether antigay forces could scale those hurdles, activists say, is no reason to ignore the threat--because the consequences of the amendment�s passage could be dire.

�The right says that our LGBT movement is engaged in a war to bring down Judeo-Christian civilization,� said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman. �I agree with Tony Kushner that they are the ones imposing war on us, and the constitutional amendment is the line in the sand. If that gets crossed, there will be people getting arrested in the offices of the people who are supporting this amendment. There will be marches in the streets. We will be calling these people the bigots that they are.

�To date there has been no political consequence to elected officials getting behind this heinous piece of legislation but once this thing actually starts moving, we definitely have it in us to make this ugly. I, for one, will be right there. The Task Force will be right there.�

Foreman says the amendment drive will only take off if George W. Bush explicitly pushes it.

�It will not go unless Bush pulls the trigger,� he said. �And George Bush will pull the trigger if they determine it will help him solidify his base and provide a useful wedge. It�s impossible to predict. What I do know for sure is that this is being focus-grouped to death to determine how the president can use it for his own reelection needs.�

Foreman believes that if Bush pulls the trigger, the amendment �will certainly pass the House of Representatives and come very close to passage in the Senate.�

�We need to lobby our members of Congress,� he said. �We need to speak candidly to our families and friends and associates and ask them to contact their elected representatives. What the organized movement can do is work much better together and drop our institutional egos to confront and defeat the challenges that are cropping up all over the country.�

Lawyer Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, is among the activists who feel the amendment also imperils domestic-partnership and civil-union laws.

�The amendment is written to put a thumb on the scale against any measure of protection for gay families or unmarried non-gay people�s families, and the groups that are circulating this attack on the Constitution have a clear track record of saying one thing and then doing another when it comes to their antigay agenda,� Wolfson said. �California provides dramatic evidence. When pushing the Knight initiative, [antigay activists] claimed it was just to bar marriage not domestic partnership. Now, these same groups are in court in California seeking to overturn AB 205 which [expanded the spousal rights available to registered partners] but does not provide for marriage.�

Wolfson says the gay movement faces three key tasks.

�First, we must secure the civil-marriage licenses we have won in Massachusetts,� he said. �We need to get resources there to support the groups, beginning with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, to fight the politicians who are not following the law. Second, we need to repel attacks, including the [federal] constitutional amendment; other hateful, discriminatory attacks in Congress; and attacks in state legislatures. Third, we need to enlist more voices into this public debate. As the middle moves toward us, they need to hear more diverse messengers delivering the message of marriage equality.�

Individual gays and lesbians can make all the difference, Wolfson says.

�Ask others to speak out against discrimination, to understand what�s at stake in the marriage movement, to not let their silence be construed as support for discrimination,� he said. �Each one of us needs to ask our nearest and dearest to learn why this is important to us personally, why discrimination is wrong for families and the country, and to understand how we�re under attack and need their help. Begin with families, friends and coworkers and really have the conversation. Then, pick your favorite organization that is working on this and get involved. FreedomtoMarry.org lists all the organizations working on this around the country.�

Wolfson says the gay community can beat back the constitutional amendment �if we mobilize and fight it.�

�We have to avoid panic but also complacency,� he said. �We need to seize this opportunity to have a very important discussion with America--because we�re winning that discussion.�

Jon Davidson, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, agrees with Wolfson that the constitutional amendment, as currently written, endangers domestic-partnership statutes of all sorts.

�It�s definitely a threat to civil-union laws and to domestic-partnership laws and to other laws that provide protections to same-sex couples and their families,� Davidson said. �The second sentence will nullify civil-unions laws. You wouldn�t be able to use the civil-unions law in Vermont, for example, to require that you be given whatever spousal rights might be in question. It doesn�t prohibit a state from voluntarily giving benefits, but anybody who doesn�t want to do it voluntarily doesn�t have to. Legislatures couldn�t require that the benefits be granted.�

Davidson also agrees that Bush�s full-on support is essential if the amendment is to have a chance of passage, and he, too, says gays and lesbians must contact their elected representatives.

�It is really important that members of Congress and state legislatures hear that this is as unacceptable of a thing as could possibly be done against the gay community, and that everybody who votes for this will never get a gay person�s vote or a cent of their money ever again regardless of what else they do,� he said.

�The idea that we would amend the guiding document of our government to make gay people permanently unequal cannot be defended on any ground.�

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Dec. 21 found that 55 percent of Americans support amending the Constitution to permanently ban same-sex marriage. Forty percent oppose the idea.

Pollsters questioned 1,057 Americans by telephone between Dec. 10 and Dec. 13. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points, and the Times also noted, �Responses about gay rights tend to be influenced somewhat by the wording of the questions.�

 

 


New partner law and suit against it can both go ahead

Sacramento--Both sides in a lawsuit over the state�s new domestic partner law are claiming victory after a Superior Court ruling on December 18.

Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Cecil ruled that lawsuits filed by state Sen. William �Pete� Knight and the anti-gay Campaign for California Families could go forward.

The two suits argue that the law, which grants wide rights and responsibilities to couples on the state�s domestic partner registry, contravenes Proposition 22. The ballot initiative, backed by Knight and passed by voters in 2000, limits marriage in California to a man and a woman.

At the time that Proposition 22 was being debated, proponents of the measure argued that it would not affect domestic partner benefits.

The judge denied motions by the state to throw out the lawsuits.

However, Cecil also rejected a request by Knight and CCF to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the law from going into effect on January 1, 2005.

The judge said that, while the suits presented a viable claim, it did not appear at the time that it was �reasonably probable� that they would be successful.

Gray Davis signed the bill into law on September 19, shortly before he lost a recall election. The law opens community property, debt responsibility and parenting custody and support rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners in the state. It does not, however, allow joint filing of state income taxes.

Shortly after Davis signed the new law, Knight and CCF said they would collect signatures to force a ballot referendum on it.

The deadlines for both of next year�s elections have passed without any signatures filed. To be on the March ballot, petitions would have had to be submitted by December 4. For the November elections, they were due on December 21.

After the December 4 deadline passed, Knight and CCF said that they were abandoning the petition drive. Pro-gay forces took that statement with a grain of salt, indicating that it might have been a ruse. With the second deadline now passed, it would appear that it was true.

�This lawsuit puts our family in harm�s way,� said Kay Smith, a member of a same-sex couple who have joined the suit in an effort to protect the law. �I�ve been with my partner for more than 20 years, but if this lawsuit succeeds, I�d be seen as a legal stranger to the woman I love in all kinds of tough situations.�

Eleven other couples intervened in the lawsuits, and members of those couples include a state legislator, a filmmaker, and family court judges. Also responding to the suits is Equality California, the state�s largest pro-LGBT advocacy group. The couples and Equality California are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

It is expected that Cecil will begin hearing oral arguments sometime this spring.

 

 

 


Massachusetts top court asks for civil union advice

Boston--The state�s highest court on December 15 asked for legal briefs to help it decide if civil unions would fulfill the requirements of its landmark ruling for same-sex marriage.

The court ruled on November 18 that denying marriage to lesbian and gay couples violated the state constitution�s equal rights provisions. It gave the legislature 180 days to change the laws.

Early in December, the state Senate asked the Supreme Judicial Court to examine civil union legislation to see if it would provide relief to the couples who filed the suit against the state ban on same-sex marriage.

Civil unions would grant all of the state rights and responsibilities of marriage except the word �marriage� itself. Without it, however, the measure�s effect would end at the state border, and not apply to any of the 1,049 federal laws affected by marriage.

The state House of Representatives is holding their own civil union bill until the Supreme Judicial Court decides whether they are acceptable.

The court set a deadline of January 12 for filing briefs.

The anti-gay Massachusetts Family Institute, who back a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, said that they would file a brief, and Gov. Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly are considering it. Both Romney and Reilly believe the court�s ruling was broad enough to allow civil unions.

The Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, among other gay equal rights organizations, expect to file a brief in the matter. They will argue that the court was very specific in its ruling that the state must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

A constitutional amendment to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples has been introduced in the legislature. It contains language that would also invalidate civil unions. While the proposal may fail, support increased when the prospect of removing language about civil unions was put forward.

A joint �constitutional convention� session of the legislature is set for February 11 to vote on the proposal. It would take approval by constitutional conventions in two consecutive sessions to put the issue to voters. The soonest that could happen is 2006, long after the court�s 180-day waiting period ends.


Two marriage surveys show the flaws
of relying on polls

New York City--Two polls on the subject of same-sex marriage show the dangers of relying on surveys to create public policy.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released on December 21 indicates a slim majority of Americans favor a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage. The newspaper�s article on the poll, reported in some Ohio papers, is drawing as much controversy as the issue it covers.

An internet poll by the anti-gay American Family Association, in comparison, has gone far astray from what its creators intended. It presently shows a majority support same-sex marriage.

According to the New York Times poll, 55% of Americans approve of a constitutional amendment that would codify marriage as a union between a man and a woman, with 40% opposed. Support for the amendment rose to 71% among those who viewed marriage as a religious institution.

Of those who view marriage as a legal institution, 55% favor same-sex marriage.

The poll was conducted over three days in mid-December, with a polling sample of just over 1,000 people. It has a margin of error of 3%.

What is drawing the ire of commentators, however, is the way the poll was presented. The Times headline described 55%, plus or minus the 3% margin of error, as �strong support� for the amendment. Of the ten quotes in the story, seven were from people opposed to same-sex marriage, including Jan LaRue of the anti-gay Concerned Women for America and Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Two were pro-marriage equality, and one was neutral.

�This is a story about a slight majority�s opposition to equality, but the story never discusses equality and blares forth about �strong support� for an amendment banning �gay marriage�,� writes Chris Geidner, a law student at Ohio State University�s Moritz College of Law, wrote on his web log on www.enbanc.org.

The American Family Association poll, on the other hand, has three options: �I oppose legalization of homosexual marriage and �civil unions�,�� �I favor legalization of homosexual marriage� and �I favor a �civil union� with the full benefits of marriage except for the name.�

The AFA most likely expected the poll, publicized only to the group�s e-mail list, to show strong opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions. In its first days that was the case, until pro-gay forces started an e-mail campaign telling allies of the LGBT community about it.

At the time this article was written, 58.08% of those who took the poll favored full same-sex marriage, while 33.65% opposed marriage equality. An additional 8.27% supported civil unions. The poll is still running at www.marriagepoll.com.

According to the web page, the organization is going to give the final tally to Congress. When asked if they will still do it even if the results oppose the group�s stance, Buddy Smith in the AFA media relations department said, �Yes, the plans are still to present the results to Congress.�

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