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January 02, 2009

Partner registry ballot battle heats up

Cleveland--Friends and foes of the city’s new domestic partner registry are organizing for a ballot showdown. The only question now is when it will be.

The registry was passed 137 by city council on December 8 and signed by Mayor Frank Jackson two days later. It will open April 9 unless opponents can collect 10,228 valid petition signatures before then to force a referendum.

Registry opponents are circulating two petitions simultaneously. One is for a referendum, the other is to put a repeal on ballot later in the form of an initiative. That would requires only 5,000 signatures

The only difference is timing. A successful referendum drive would stop the registry from taking effect; an initiative--which can be done any time--could challenge it even after it takes effect.

A referendum election could occur as early as February 3, and anti-LGBT churches are pushing petition circulators to collect enough signatures to do that by next Monday, January 5.

The registry allows unmarried couples over the age of 18, same-sex or opposite sex, to register their partnership with the city. It is open to both residents and non-residents of Cleveland.

The registry confers no rights or benefits. It will allow couples to access benefits offered by insurance companies, employers and health care providers.

Petition circulators are claiming to voters that Cleveland City Council broke the law by passing the registry, and that council is trying to dodge Ohio’s constitutional marriage ban amendment. Both claims are false.

Ohio’s first partner registry, passed by Cleveland Heights voters five years ago, was challenged in court unsuccessfully. Cleveland’s is modeled after that one.

An appeals court unanimously agreed with Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Robert Glickman’s ruling that the registry does not violate the amendment and is an appropriate “act of self-governance.”

Glickman said that a domestic partner registry “does not create any result, either within the city or outside its territory, other than the mere existence of names on a list.”

The Ohio Supreme Court later determined that the ban amendment applies only to marriage and civil union.

If Cleveland’s registry is terminated by voters, it will have a chilling effect over other cities considering them, including Columbus, and will make other pro-LGBT measures more difficult for city councils to consider.

Campaign for registry is formed

The LGBT community and its allies have formed a campaign committee to preserve the registry, called Cleveland Families Count.

Among the principals of the effort is David Caldwell, who headed Heights Families for Equality, the group that created the Cleveland Heights registry.

The group has begun canvassing Cleveland neighborhoods to identify registry supporters. Eighteen people canvassed west side neighborhoods on December 21 on the seven degree temperature afternoon.

Others have begun raising money and working phone banks.

The initial leadership of Cleveland Families Count includes Caldwell, Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman and northeast Ohio board member Doug Braun, and Cleveland LGBT Center director Sue Doerfer.

Churches are organizing

Anti-LGBT churches and their allies against the registry are organizing, too. That campaign committee is called the Greater Cleveland Coalition of Churches.

Doerfer attended the organizational meeting December 20 at City Church on Cleveland’s east side.

According to Doerfer, opponents are keeping their initial activities confined to like-minded churches.

“Just get the petitions to believers. Believers will sign,” Doerfer said the group of about 30 was instructed to do with the petitions.

“The minister making the presentation said the people handling petitions didn’t need to know anything about the registry other than stopping it would save the children of Cleveland from gay marriage,” Doerfer said.

Their goal was to get 7,500 signatures by Christmas, according to Doerfer.

The church coalition is made up of black pastors, who appear to be the organizers, and white anti-LGBT activists who have been at odds with Cleveland gays in the past.

Doris Durica, the white school-voucher activist who testified before council against the registry, is organizing against it. Assisting her is Richard May, the Ward 20 Republican Party official who in 2006 denounced fellow Republican William McGivern’s bid for state representative because McGivern is gay.

“Never mind the gay guy,” headlined May’s 1,200 flyers.

Durica said she is circulating petitions but didn’t know about any campaign.

Durica complained that her parish priest and bishop are “lacking in courage” because they denied her permission to circulate petitions at her church.

She said she has opposed domestic partner registries since Cleveland Heights established theirs.

“I called Marty [council president Martin Sweeney] and told him to make sure nothing like that ever came here,” Durica said.

Durica said that all signed petitions were to be returned to Rev. C. Jay Matthews’ church, Mount Sinai Baptist, a large, predominately black congregation.

Matthews chairs United Pastors in Mission, a politically influential organization of black ministers directed by Marvin McMickle of Antioch Baptist Church.

Matthews denied being the leader of the campaign to stop the registry in an earlier interview with the Chronicle. He also denied lobbying black city councilors, as did McMickle.

However, growing evidence confirmed by Durica suggests that neither denial is true.

Matthews has avoided numerous attempts by the Chronicle to get clarification.

Doerfer said that before the meeting at City Church adjourned to an hour-long prayer service, it was also announced that Cleveland Ward 3 Councilor Zack Reed met with the group to instruct them on how to get the matter on the ballot.

Reed, who publicly claims to be a friend of the LGBT community, voted against the registry.

Suburban churches are joining the campaign to stop the registry, too.

In a letter recruiting members to oppose the registry, Pastor Rick Duncan of the suburban Cuyahoga Valley Church wrote about the “slippery slope,” presumably to marriage.

“Statewide votes on these issues have already taken place. The majority of Ohioan’s voted not to allow a marriage or a civil union of same sex partners,” according to Duncan, pledging his church’s support.

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