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February 10, 2012

Cincinnati ready to pass city worker partner benefits

Cincinnati--When Chris Seelbach ran for Cincinnati council last year, a platform plank was to make the city more inclusive, more fair, and increase benefits to everyone. Voters responded by overwhelmingly electing Seelbach, making him the first openly gay Cincinnati official.

Seelbach’s first legislative initiative would establish health and pension benefits for unmarried partners of city employees, same-sex and opposite sex.

The measure passed its first reading 8-1 on January 11, Seelbach’s second council meeting. It also has the support of Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.

The only opponent was councilor Charlie Winburn, a longtime foe of LGBT equality.

Winburn, as pastor of the non-denominational Church in College Hill, was a leader of the 1993 campaign to pass Article 12, which banned any gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance. It remained in the city charter until 2004, when Seelbach helped lead a successful repeal campaign.

Winburn has been on and off council. Anti-gay themes have always been centerpieces of his council campaigns. He told Cincinnati residents in 2001 that adding sexual orientation to non-discrimination laws would protect necrophiliacs and make it difficult to prosecute pedophiles.

Regardless, Seelbach expects the ordinance to pass 7-2 when it comes up for passage this spring.

“The administration will come back around March 1 with recommendations as to how to best implement the motion and outline the costs,” Seelbach said. “Then I will draft the ordinance.”

Seelbach says he expects the ordinance to be passed by the beginning of April.

Cleveland, Columbus and Cleveland Heights have similar ordinances, and Cuyahoga County is in the process of passing one. Seelbach said that Cincinnati’s will most closely resemble the Columbus measure.

Possible suit against the benefits

Blogger and former Plain Dealer correspondent Bill Sloat reports that anti-LGBT activist Phil Burress is planning to sue Cincinnati once the ordinance is passed.

Burress did not return calls for comment. He and his Citizens for Community Values, in suburban Sharonville, backed Article 12 in Cincinnati, then ran the campaign for Ohio’s constitutional marriage ban amendment 11 years later.

CCV has brought suits against Cleveland and Cleveland Heights for their domestic partner registries. Courts sided with the cities in both cases.

Burress’s group has also been involved in suits around the state trying to expand the ban amendment to greater impact the lives of LGBT couples and their families.

The Ohio Supreme Court four years ago narrowed the amendment to prohibit only same-sex marriage and “marriage substitutes,” which it defines as civil unions. CCV’s lawsuits to stop universities from offering partner benefits have also failed.

For that reason, Seelbach is not worried about any threat from Burress.

“[Burress] didn’t sue Cleveland or Columbus,” Seelbach said, “and he had the opportunity.”

Cincinnati is prepared and “one thousand percent confident” that a suit against their ordinance “has no basis, whatsoever,” Seelbach added.

Seelbach says that a suit against the ordinance won’t succeed because of the way the Ohio Supreme Court narrowed the amendment, and because the ordinance will also include opposite-sex couples.

“It’s not LGBT-specific and not a violation of [the Ohio Defense of Marriage Act] or the constitutional amendment,” Seelbach concluded.















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