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May 18. 2012

Dayton, Cincinnati approve domestic partnership measures

by Anthony Glassman

DaytonOn May 2, city commissioners voted unanimously to join five other Ohio cities with domestic partner registries.

While the registry, which begins on June 1, does not offer any benefits in itself, registering as domestic partners can be used as proof for employers who offer insurance benefits to partners of employees. The registry is open to opposite-sex and same-sex couples who are not married or in a domestic partnership already.

Couples would also have to affirm that they are in a committed relationship, are 18 or older and are not related in any way that would prevent them from marrying if they were able. They must also live together.

There is a $50 fee for the registry, which does not have a residency restriction.

Cleveland Heights was the first Ohio city to introduce a domestic partner registry, passed by the voters. It withstood a court challenge under the states 2004 constitutional marriage ban amendment. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that it was legal, since it did not approximate the effects of marriage. Cleveland, Toledo, Yellow Springs and Athens also instituted domestic partner registries, none of which convey legal benefits in themselves.

This is another step in making Dayton as welcoming as possible to all people, Dayton commissioner Nan Whaley said, according to the Dayton Daily News, which noted that there were 11 speakers in favor of the registry, and none opposed.

The same day, Cincinnati City Council voted 8-1 to pass domestic partner benefits for city employees. The sole dissenting vote was from councilor Charlie Winburn, who is an evangelical Christian minister.  Winburn indicated he needed more legal clari fication before he could vote on the motion.

It feels great, said Chris Seelbach, the citys first openly gay council member. Im very happy and proud of my colleagues that they were willing to stand with me on this. Seelbach had promised to make this measure one of his first priorities in office. In the end, were doing this because its the right thing to do, he added.
Phil Burress, the head of Citizens for Community Values, a virulently anti-gay organization that also crusades against obscenity, said that he would be watching the vote and might file suit against the benefits for violating the anti-marriage amendment. Were he to do so, however, he would have an uphill climb, since the courts have consistently narrowly defined the amendment and ruled that only marriage truly approximates marriage.

Cincinnatis vote came a day after Covington, Kentucky approved similar benefits. Covington officials said they acted quickly to beat Cincinnati to the punch. The city will model their benefits after Columbus. A number of other cities and counties in the state already offer benefits, including Lucas County, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland and Columbus.

Despite Lucas Countys domestic partner benefits, Toledo City Council found itself in a contentious debate over the issue on May 1. Some council members who were critical of the idea of extending benefits pointed to recent labor negotiations which saw employees taking cuts to save money.

That was the point made by councilor Rob Ludeman. It was countered by acting human resources director Ellen Grachek, who said that it was designed to give something back to the employees in a way the city could afford, unlike three or four percent pay increases.

Councilman D. Michael Collins suggested putting the issue before voters in November, and also noted that Mayor Mike Bell could have simply ordered the changes himself, instead of bringing the issue to city council.
Councilman Steven Steel and council president Joe McNamara opined that those arguments were covering the real issue, which was opposition to same-sex couples getting benefits.

The two sides arguments became quite contentious, and further action on the benefits was put off until the May 30 meeting. |





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