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October 18, 2013

Lakewood city workers get domestic partner benefits

Lakewood--About 14 years after the idea was first floated, Lakewood will offer domestic partner benefits to city employees beginning in 2014.

The benefits will cover health insurance and Family Medical Leave Act events, among other things. They were proposed by Councilor Monique Smith and implemented by Mayor Michael Summers as an executive decision.

City council praised the decision as a move toward equality for the city, and Summers described it as a move towards consistency and fairness.

The change was made with much less controversy than met it the first time, in 2000.

That year, City Council shot down domestic partner benefits for city employees by a 5-2 vote. Only former council vice-president Nancy Roth and councilor Michael Skindell, now a state senator, voted in favor of the ordinance.

Edward FitzGerald, then an at-large councilor, voted against the measure. He noted the conflict in council meetings between supporters and opponents, who had filled the large council chamber for several meetings. He also pointed out that Columbus had passed one in 1999, but it was repealed by council when opponents threatened a referendum. Since then, Columbus has enacted the benefits.

Last year, as Cuyahoga County executive, FitzGerald helped benefits for county employees pass through county council, expressing amusement when opponents sent the measure back to committee for a full definition of “domestic partner,” which he said was readily available and was not a new issue.

A handful of cities across the state have domestic partner registries which could be used to prove a relationship for the purpose of benefits, including Cleveland Heights, which passed theirs by ballot initiative in 2003, Toledo, Cleveland, Athens, Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Yellow Springs and Oberlin.

Lucas County, Columbus, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights and a number of other municipalities offer domestic partner benefits, as do at least eight major universities, including Bowling Green, University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Ohio University, Ohio State University, Cleveland State, Youngstown State and the University of Toledo.

While Ohio’s 2004 marriage ban amendment bars the recognition of marriage or any equivalent status for same-sex couples, the state Supreme Court has ruled quite narrowly on it, declaring that the amendment specifies “all of the attributes of marriage,” not some of them, so it only bans same-sex marriage and civil unions, not partner benefits.
















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