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Toledo--Rev. Michelle Stecker and Carol Bresnahan became the first couple to register as domestic partners on December 21, joining seven other couples who received certificates on the first day of the city registry.
Stecker, the board president of Equality Toledo, and Bresnahan, vice provost of the University of Toledo, had filled out the paperwork on December 18. They arrived, however, after Equality Toledo executive director Kim Welter and her partner, Merri Bame.
Welter and Bame waited for Stecker and Bresnahan to be first.
Stecker, who received a law degree this year from UT, wrote the registry ordinance with the UT College of Law legal clinic. The measure calls for the city clerk to create and keep the registry.
City council passed the ordinance 10-2 on November 13. It was introduced by Councilor Joe McNamara, who was present in the clerk’s office when the first couples signed up.
Couples signing up for the registry must show proof that they live together. They also cannot be married or in another domestic partnership.
The couples then pay $25 and get a certificate and wallet cards.
The registry carries no benefits itself, although it can be used to prove a relationship for employers who offer domestic partner benefits, or if one of the members of the couple is in the hospital.
According to the Toledo Blade, five female and three male couples signed up for the registry on the first day.
Local news organizations covered the start of the registry, both in person and in later interviews.
“Channel 11 [WTOL] was there, and the Blade,” said Welter. “We didn’t send out a press release because there’s a movement afoot to put a voter referendum on to repeal this thing.”
“Since then, 13 [WTVC] has done an interview with Michelle and Fox [Channel 36 WUPW] did an interview with me,” she continued.
Two men turned in 228 signatures to force a referendum that would have stopped the registry from taking effect, the Blade reported. The signatures, handed in on December 13, fell far short of the 9,482 that were needed.
Welter notes that there is a continuing effort to gather enough signatures to put the measure to a repeal vote. She noted attorney Lafe Tolliver and Stephen Ward of Remix Ministries, who have both written columns in Toledo’s African American newspaper, Sojourner’s Truth.
“Make no mistake about it,” wrote Tolliver in his November 28 piece. “This registry is the first of many attempts by the gay and lesbian community to ‘bogart’ the discussion and win public approval for their lifestyles and eventually to place their same sex unions on parity with heterosexual marriages.”
Tolliver’s arguments are primarily based on biblical references, and he takes to task churches that did not publicly oppose the registry.
However, according to Welter, there are 98 churches in the Equality Toledo’s Northwest Ohio religious leaders database, although many are not open in their support.
“We actually had some of the African American churches, which is new here, say they wouldn’t help [repeal organizers] out,” Welter noted.
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner signed the legislation on November 30, just three days after Toledo Catholic Bishop Leonard Blair sent out a letter to churches in the diocese urging the mayor to reject the measure.
“Our defense of marriage is meant to focus primarily on the fundamental importance of marriage for children, families and society, not on homosexuality or other matters,” Blair wrote. “I ask you to join me in opposing measures like the domestic partnership registry, particularly when there is little time for public discussion.”
City council had moved the measure through quickly, although there was a week between its introduction and its passage.
Blair pointed to the 2004 passage of a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage in Ohio, saying that city council acted in opposition to the will of the citizenry and the law.
However, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the Cleveland Heights domestic partner registry, passed in 2003, does not violate the constitutional amendment since it carries no legal benefits. The high court also ruled last summer that the amendment only bars same-sex marriage and civil unions, not anything else.
Welter said she hopes more people sign up for the registry.
“It’s four days before Christmas,” she said on December 21. “People have other things to do! It’s not like this is a live-or-die thing going on here, it’s just a good thing, a good step forward.”
She also noted that Stecker put together a domestic partner registry toolkit for advocates and cities to use. Toledo was the first Ohio city to pass such a registry through a council votes; Cleveland Heights passed one in 2003 through a voter initiative.
After all was said and done, however, Welter and Bame went home, and Stecker and Bresnahan went home, as did the rest of the couples.
“It really doesn’t feel any different,” Welter said. “I’ve felt married to Merri for nine years now. I just feel happy for the entire community that we’ve taken this step forward.”