A gay rights group called Heights Families for Equality from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, announced Sunday its latest drive to create a citywide domestic-partner registry. If the measure passes, it would be the first domestic-partner registry in the nation passed by voters and not lawmakers. Overall, 61 registries have been created by municipal councils or state legislatures, but not by voters, said Lorri Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The registry would give gay and heterosexual unmarried partners a legal record of their commitment to one another. Couples could use the document in attempts to share employment benefits or inherit property. The registry would not be binding on courts, governments, hospitals, or private companies, but many such registries have been accepted elsewhere.
"Cleveland Heights is a small place, but equality in this country is something that happens in little bits and pieces, at least until we get a federal law," Jean said. Heights Families for Equality needs to collect about 3,600 signatures to put the registry on the ballot this year.
The drive comes as the state legislature is poised to ban same-sex marriages or recognition of gay relationships. The Ohio house approved such a bill in November by a 68-29 vote, but the measure died because the senate did not vote on it. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said he would reintroduce the bill. A statewide defense-of-marriage law and a Cleveland Heights registry could be irreconcilable, however.
In April, Cleveland Heights became the first Ohio city to extend health benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. The domestic-partner registry would not be limited to gay couples. It could be used by heterosexual couples, such as elderly widows and widowers who enter into new relationships. They may want to register instead of marrying because remarriage could mean the loss of a deceased spouse's pension or Social Security benefits, said Mark Beach, a spokesman for the California AARP.