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Registry foes won’t let go after falling short
A repeal will probably be on a fall ballot, say measure’s backers
Cleveland--Opponents of the city’s new domestic partner registry failed to collect enough petition signatures to force a referendum last week, but they will now try to repeal the measure by initiative.
Meanwhile, the registry, signed by Mayor Frank Jackson on December 10, will open April 9.
The registry opponents, called the Greater Cleveland Coalition of Churches, have been circulating two petitions simultaneously. The failed one was for the referendum, to stop the measure from taking effect until a vote was held. The other is for an initiative to put a repeal on the ballot later.
The coalition’s deadline to submit the needed 10,228 referendum petitions was January 7.
But the initiative would require only 5,000 signatures. It appears they did not have that number either, since no petition was filed.
The coalition has set a mid-April deadline for themselves, to collect the signatures and begin the initiative process.
Once initiative signatures are verified, the repeal ordinance would go to a city council committee which can hold hearings and, within 60 days, send it back to council to be acted upon within 30 more days.
Council may do nothing, send it to the voters, or attempt to change it.
The city charter leaves room for interpretation of the procedure, but the measure can be expected to be on the ballot either during Cleveland’s September 8 primary election or the November 3 general election, said David Caldwell, spokesperson for Cleveland Families Count--the group organizing to preserve the registry.
“Once the dance is over, we believe it will happen this year,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell said the initiative route is preferable to those who want to keep the registry.
“Once the registry opens, we will have a better chance to answer voters’ questions,” Caldwell said. “The ballot language may be inscrutable. It may read something like, ‘Shall ordinance 1745.08 be repealed?’ which would be great.”
Caldwell said the campaign will cost “six figures, and not low six figures,” though the budget is still in the planning stages.
The amount of money raised will determine the strength of the campaign, said Caldwell, who added, “We’d like to be able to voter ID the entire city.”
Cleveland Families Count has been going door-to-door on weekends with small crews, talking to voters and identifying which ones support the registry.
“Awareness of the new ordinance is very low,” Caldwell said, but the canvassing, which has so far been done in neighborhoods believed to be supportive, “has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Registry proponents have also begun to do phone calls seeking volunteers and contributions, two days each week.
“This week we will be starting to phone-bank people we canvassed, who said they want to help,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the three most important things the campaign is doing now are fundraising, organizing the field team, and building a multi-racial team of campaign volunteers, the latter to ensure that the campaign does not become racially polarizing.
While the opposition to the registry is racially diverse, it is primarily being driven by black pastors.
Caldwell led Heights Families for Equality, the group that created the Cleveland Heights registry with a 2003 voter initiative. He is a nationally recognized expert on ballot initiatives, has been a trainer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and was the field director for the campaign attempting to defeat Florida’s 2008 marriage ban amendment.
Pointing to his experience and to the Proposition 8 campaign in California, Caldwell, who is white, said, “The opposition has shown in other campaigns a desire to be racially divisive.”
Does he fear that in Cleveland? “Yes.”
“Already, they are exploiting process resentment, which dovetails with race,” Caldwell said.
Registry opponents have put out three messages in the black community newspaper, the Call and Post: that the registry was rushed through; that it is undemocratic because council passed it instead of the voters; and it was a waste of council’s time.
Opponents have also suggested that the registry runs afoul of Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage--which it doesn’t--and the pastors have complained that city council did not consult them before passing the measure.
Rod McCullom of Chicago is a black gay blogger who frequently writes on these matters at Rod 2.0. He wrote a column excoriating the two black pastors at the heart of the registry opposition earlier this month.
The two ministers are Rev. C. Jay Matthews of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, who also chairs the local NAACP’s Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, and Rev. Marvin McMickle of Antioch Baptist Church, which has a large AIDS ministry called Agape.
“It’s ironic and all too typical that the city’s most prominent anti-gay black pastors are those responsible for church-based HIV/AIDS services in the black community. Yet another reason why black gay men are reluctant to come out,” McCullom wrote.
In an interview, McCullom said he has been emailed by black gays in Cleveland who are upset about the challenge to the registry.
McCollum said the fact that the pastors are protesting about process, not substance, is understandable. “They learned it from the Proposition 8 campaign.”
“It plays in the black community where there is a history of disenfranchisement,” he said..
McCullom said running anti-gay campaigns is how old-guard black pastors are clinging to power by getting their congregations riled up.
“It gets them national and local attention, and gets them political mileage,” McCullom said.
McCullom was extra critical of McMickle, who has run unsuccessful political campaigns and tried to get an appointment to Congress when Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones died.
“McMickle is pulling a political stunt,” McCullom said. “He has aspirations.”
“This is one trick that the magician can pull out of the hat and know the audience is going to clap,” McCullom said.
McCollum quoted a January 11 keynote speech made by Rev. Al Sharpton to the Alliance of Affirming Faith-Based Organizations, whose mission is to unite gay-friendly churches.
“There is something immoral and sick about using all of that power to not end brutality and poverty, but to break into people’s bedrooms and claim that God sent you,” Sharpton said.
“It amazes me,” Sharpton said, “when I looked at California and saw churches that had nothing to say about police brutality, nothing to say when a young black boy was shot while he was wearing police handcuffs, nothing to say when they overturned affirmative action, nothing to say when people were being [relegated] into poverty, yet they were organizing and mobilizing to stop consenting adults from choosing their life partners.”
McCullom said the Cleveland ministers opposing the registry are exactly who Sharpton was talking to.
Caldwell said, “The strategy is simple. We need to tell the truth to a lot of people and we need to scale it up rapidly from where we are now.”
McCullom said that to subvert the pastors in the black community, “Let them know how the registry is good for Cleveland.”
“Encourage everyone to talk to their friends and family,” he said, “If it’s good for Cleveland, it’s good for you and me.”
“Let people know it’s not marriage,” McCullom said, and [keep the registry] because we want to be fair.”
“Remember,” McCullom concluded, “in the black community, there is a tradition of extended families.”
“We have gotten off the ground better than expected, but there’s lots of work ahead and we need more people,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell can be reached at email@example.com. A website will be launched soon.
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