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Registry won’t be undone, says Forbes
Cleveland--“The registry is passed. It’s not going to be undone,” said Cleveland NAACP president George Forbes after two meetings with backers of Cleveland’s new domestic partner registry.
Forbes, who spoke to the Gay People’s Chronicle from Florida on January 27, said he plans to call domestic partner registry opponent Rev. C. Jay Matthews when he returns to Cleveland to “urge him to withdraw” from gathering petition signatures to repeal the registry, “as a friend.”
The registry was signed into law in December, and opens April 9. Matthews led an unsuccessful referendum effort to keep it from taking effect, and is now seeking signatures to put a repeal on the ballot.
Forbes was part of two meetings with LGBT leaders. The first, on January 7, was with the editorial board of the city’s African-American weekly, the Call and Post, of which Forbes is a member. He is also the newspaper’s legal counsel.
The other meeting occurred January 15 with the NAACP board, which Forbes chairs, and the agency’s top staff.
The registry proponents involved were Cleveland LGBT Center director Sue Doerfer, city councilor Joe Cimperman, attorney Leslye Huff, African-American LGBT journalist Sherri Bowman and Kevin Calhoun. Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman also attended the meeting with the Call and Post board.
Forbes said it “does not do any cause any good” to have Cleveland become the national focal point of an action against gay equal rights.
But Matthews is not deterred.
“No, we have not suspended our efforts. We should have the signatures by the end of the month,” he said in a January 27 email.
The meeting with the Call and Post “was tense when it started,” said Forbes.
The editorial board initially opposed the registry, but according to Forbes and Doerfer, minds were changed as the meeting went on, and gay and lesbian people talked about what the registry is and isn’t, and how it affects lives.
The measure, similar to ones in Toledo and Cleveland Heights, allows unmarried couples, both same and opposite-sex, to register with the city and receive documentation of their relationship. It grants no rights or responsibilities, but will be helpful in gaining benefits such as health coverage from private employers.
“I found out it was nothing more than a registry,” said Forbes, adding that when the conversation turned to LGBT people not having any legal protection, he began to think about it differently.
“I’m a civil rights lawyer and I realized that I had never had a gay or lesbian civil rights case, and it is because there are no rights,” Forbes said. “That’s when the tide of the meeting changed.”
It’s all about fairness
“For over 90 years, this newspaper has been a champion of the downtrodden and those who civil rights have been attacked or violated,” the Call and Post said in a January 22 editorial. “We will not shy away from the issue of a domestic partner registry. At the end of the day, it’s all about fairness.”
“Individuals in committed relationships, but who are of the same sex, don’t love any differently that those that are in heterosexual,” the newspaper noted. “Love is love and commitment is commitment any way you slice it.
“The Call and Post goes on record in supporting the domestic partner registry.”
The NAACP also passed a resolution in support of the registry.
The Episcopal bishop of Ohio, Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., sent a letter to Cleveland council supporting it, joined by three assisting bishops.
Forbes, who was city council president from 1974 to 1989, was critical of the way council passed the registry ordinance. He agreed that the pastors Matthews represents didn’t have much chance to be part of the process.
Forbes said he has asked council president Martin Sweeney to come up with a way to allow the ministers to be heard.
“I am trying to make a non-issue go away without causing any further division,” Forbes said.
Sweeney said he has a call in to Matthews to arrange that conversation.
“Whatever forum, public or private, whatever we can do to meet their wants and needs, this council stands ready to do so,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney did not know when the forum would happen.
Forbes also believes that opposition to the registry is thin.
“I don’t think there are as many ministers craving for this [repeal] as some want us to think,” said Forbes.
That sentiment echoes Matthews’ statement to the Chronicle in December.
Matthews said United Pastors in Mission, the group he chairs that came out against the registry, is “not a monolithic community” and that not all of its members oppose the registry.
Since registry opponents did not collect enough petition signatures to force a referendum, any repeal will now need to be done by ballot initiative, which has no deadline for signatures to be submitted.
The black pastors in Matthews’ group were joined in their opposition by white suburban evangelical churches and loose-knit groups of anti-LGBT citizens, mostly living on the west side of the city.
Should Forbes succeed in convincing the black pastors to end their opposition to the registry, it is still unclear what the others will do.
That uncertainty is the cause of a split in Cleveland Families Count, the campaign organizing to defend the registry.
A small subgroup, led by Doerfer and Bowman, decided to have a two-week break from canvassing neighborhoods. Volunteers have instead been calling supporters for contributions.
According to Doerfer, they have pledges for around $1,600, of which around $500 has come in.
She said the break in canvassing will give a chance for the dialogue to work.
“We were not specifically asked to stop canvassing,” Doerfer said, calling the cessation an act of “good faith, trusting the dialogue.”
“There are no guarantees the [registry opponents] will stop,” Doerfer said, “and it’s likely they won’t stop. The pastors have been in the media saying they are collecting signatures.”
Doerfer believes that if the black pastors drop out as leaders, however, the campaign will “lose steam.”
“Also, it will push into the public who else is working on this,” Doerfer said. “We will learn who they are and who we are dealing with.”
But other Cleveland Families Count members believe that the moratorium on canvassing is a mistake. Asking not to be identified, they said it is a waste of valuable time, and is setting the campaign back in a ballot fight they think will inevitably occur.
That group has been considering the possibility of declaring independence from a campaign they see as losing momentum.
The subgroup is led by people involved with Heights Families for Equality, which created the Cleveland Heights registry by initiative. They also believe that Cleveland neighborhoods should be canvassed whether there is a registry fight or not because future progress could depend on knowing where LGBT-supportive citizens are.
“We’re meeting next week to see what the next steps are,” Doerfer said of the two factions. “I suspect we will start canvassing again.”
“We all want the same thing,” Doerfer said, “and as with any organization there are points of disagreement as to how to obtain what we want.”
“ ‘Gay’ is on the radar in Cleveland, and that is good,” Doerfer said.
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