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November 16, 2007

Toledo council passes partner registry

Toledo is set to become the first Ohio city with a domestic partner registry created by its city council. It will be the second such registry in Ohio; the first was created by Cleveland Heights voters in 2003.

City council passed the measure 102 at its November 13 meeting, sending it to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who has ten days to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Finkbeiner has not indicated what he will do but he is not expected to veto, as only nine council votes would override him.

The registry will become law 30 days afterward, by December 23 at the latest.

Toledo’s registry, which passed without much opposition or fanfare, is nearly identical to the Cleveland Heights one.

It can be used by same-sex and opposite-sex couples who share a residence, share an intimate relationship and each others’ welfare, are not in another partnership or married to anyone else, at least 18 years old, and not related by blood.

The registry will be open to both residents and non-residents, including citizens of neighboring Michigan.

The city will charge an administrative fee of $25 and issue a certificate and wallet cards.

Toledo’s registry will be kept by the city’s Clerk of Council, and can be terminated with notice by either party, or by death.

Like the Cleveland Heights registry and those in 152 cities and states outside Ohio, the registry confers no rights. It is merely a way to document the domestic partnership in order to access benefits and clarify the status of the relationship to health care institutions, insurance companies, and employers.

Equality Toledo spearheaded the registry ordinance. Spokesperson David Mann points to glass manufacturer Owens Corning as a Toledo employer with domestic partner benefits that will take advantage of the registry for its documentation. Automakers Chrysler and Ford, which also offer domestic partner benefits, are also major Toledo area employers.

Mann said the work began on the registry nearly a year ago. It was the project of Equality Toledo president Michelle Stecker, an attorney who did internships at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Top court said registries are okay

Stecker said two court decisions gave Toledo the go-ahead to pass the registry.

Foremost was the Ohio Supreme Court’s Carswell ruling last summer that the state’s 2004 marriage ban amendment doesn’t affect the domestic violence law. The justices declared that the only “marriage substitute” barred by the amendment would be civil unions, and everything else is allowed.

As Carswell opens the door for cities and universities to give domestic partner benefits to their employees, it also allows partner registries.

The second green light came from a 2005 Eighth Ohio District Court of Appeals ruling that Cleveland Heights’ registry is permitted by its charter under Ohio’s home rule law. Stecker noted that this allows chartered cities to have registries but not counties, except for Summit County, the only one with its own charter.

Once the Carswell decision was in, Stecker said, meetings were held with council members and Finkbeiner’s chief of staff.

The ordinance was sponsored by first-term council at-large member Joe McNamara.

McNamara, an attorney, joined the Equality Toledo board as an ally after agreeing to sponsor the ordinance.

“LGBT rights are the last frontier in civil rights,” said McNamara, “and this is one small step forward.”

He pitched the registry as being good for the economics of the city.

“I am a Richard Florida follower,” McNamara said.

Florida authored The Rise of the Creative Class in 2002. The book says that cities which welcome creative people, especially LGBT people, are more likely to prosper. The concept was called a city’s “gay index.”

“Toledo is a pretty progressive town,” said McNamara. “City Council reflected that today, and I hope the mayor reflects it with his signature.”

McNamara said drafts of the ordinance had been circulating around council for a couple of months and that support came early and from nearly all the members.

The final version was introduced November 6 and the rules were suspended, allowing  it to be passed with only one reading a week later.

The Law and Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing on the ordinance November 9, passing it unanimously after hearing five witnesses in favor and no opposition.

Catholic church opposed measure

Opposition appeared between the hearing and passage, led by the Toledo diocese of the Catholic church.

The bishops sent an e-mail letter to all council members the morning of the vote asking for a delay or defeat of the ordinance.

Despite the court rulings, the bishops of Ohio wrote that the registry “clouds the State of Ohio’s recognition of marriage between a man and a woman trying to rename a civil union by legitimizing a relationship that the State of Ohio deems is not marriage …”

“This is what the Ohio voters said they did not want when they passed Issue 1 in 2004,” the bishops said.

Acknowledging that Toledo Law Director John Madigan had advised council that the registry would not violate the amendment, the bishops declared, “We disagree; we believe that it does violate the spirit of the constitutional amendment.”

The bishops said the city was allowing people to “live in a manner recognized as equivalent to a civil union.”

“Our defense of marriage must focus primarily on the fundamental importance of marriage for children, families and society, not on homosexuality or other matters,” the bishops said.

District 2 councilor Rob Ludeman spoke against the registry, claiming it would be “costly to the city” and “a disruption of normal council staff duties if it becomes the popular thing to do.”

Ludeman also cited “a personal reason based on faith” for his opposition.

“This proposal, like so many factors in our society, is one more attempt to tear down the institution of marriage between a man and a woman,” Ludeman said.

Neither Cleveland Heights nor other cities have found that registries cost more to maintain than the fees charged to register, nor that they cause any inconvenience.

Following the meeting, Ludeman was asked where his information came from.

“It’s my opinion,” Ludeman said.

Pressed as to what the opinion was based on, Ludeman replied, “Nothing, just my opinion.”

Ludeman and the other vote against the measure, District 6 councilor Joe Birmingham, are “lame ducks,” having lost their primary elections. Neither will be on council in 2008.

District 3 councilor Mike Craig called his vote for the registry a “no-brainer.”

Council president Michael Ashford also praised the registry’s passage.

Other votes in favor of the registry were District 1 councilor Wilma Brown, District 5 councilor Ellen Grachek, and at-large members Phillip Copeland, George Sarantou, Betty Schulz, Mark Sobczak, and Frank Szollosi.

To date, Cleveland Heights has registered 165 couples from as far away as California.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, with the two Ohio registries, the other 152 registries nationwide, and the 11 states and District of Columbia that recognize domestic partnerships, approximately 23 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area that recognizes unmarried couples. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry.



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