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October 8, 2010

Appeals court agrees: Registry suit was groundless

Cleveland--Opponents of the city’s domestic partner registry lost another battle in court, with an appeals court upholding the dismissal of their suit against the registry.

A three-judge panel of the Eighth Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on September 30, agreeing with Common Pleas Judge Joseph D. Russo, who dismissed the suit in November 2009.

The case was brought by Cleveland Taxpayers for the Ohio Constitution, a group formed for the purpose, and Cleveland resident Dorothy McGuire. Their suit argued that the registry contravened the Ohio constitution’s marriage ban amendment.

The amendment’s second sentence reads, “This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”

“The Court of Appeals decision is an important affirmation of Cleveland’s right to enact the domestic partner registry,” said city law director Robert Triozzi. “While we hope that this is an end to the legal challenge, we are prepared to continue to defend the rights of our citizens at every level of the legal system. We are grateful to those organizations that supported our defense of this legislation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund both filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the domestic partner registry.

“The domestic partner registry bestows upon domestic partners, like married persons, the legal right of being registered and recognized as a domestic unit,” the court wrote. “This legal recognition, in and of itself, is meaningful to the domestic partners.”

“However, as stated in the Lambda’s amicus brief, the term ‘ “domestic partner” completely lacks the social and emotive resonance of “husband” and “wife.” ’ Domestic partners are not given the same respect by society as a married couple, and they share none of marriage’s history and traditions,” Judge Colleen Conway Cooney wrote in the court’s decision.

Cleveland’s registry is nearly identical to that of its suburb, Cleveland Heights. The suburban registry, passed by voters seven years ago, survived a virtually identical challenge in 2004.

The Ohio Supreme Court also ruled in the 2007 State v. Carswell case that, “The second sentence of the amendment means the state cannot create or recognize a legal status for unmarried persons that bears all of the attributes of marriage--a marriage substitute.”

“It is clear that the purpose of Issue 1 [the amendment] was to prevent the state, either through the legislative, executive, or judicial action, from creating or recognizing a legal status deemed to be the equivalent of a marriage of a man and a woman,” Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote in the decision.

Moyer wrote that a civil union would be such an equivalent.

The Carswell ruling upheld the protection of unmarried couples by Ohio’s domestic violence laws.

The Cleveland case is being argued for the plaintiffs by attorney David Langdon, with assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian law firm in Arizona that often backs anti-gay cases.

Langdon, who wrote the marriage ban amendment, has ties to Citizens for Community Values, the suburban Cincinnati group which campaigned to pass it in 2004. He is likely to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Eric Resnick contributed to this report.

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