Originally published on Advocate.com November 06 2003 12:00 AM ET
The nation's first ballot-box recognition of gay and straight unmarried partners shows that people will support direct appeals to treat gays fairly, backers of a domestic-partner registry in suburban Cleveland Heights, Ohio, said. "We didn't do yard signs; we didn't do TV ads. We went out and talked to our neighbors," David Caldwell said after Tuesday's vote, which approved a city-run domestic-partner registry, 55% to 45%. With all precincts in Cleveland Heights reporting in unofficial returns, the vote was 7,600 in favor of the registry and 6,290 opposed.
The registry will allow unmarried couples to obtain a certificate from the city stating that they are domestic partners. "It's an affirmation that Cleveland Heights is the kind of community that welcomes everyone," said Caldwell, a spokesman for the pro-registry Heights for Families group.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the vote a historic victory. "It demonstrates when we have face-to-face conversations with Americans, they
will vote for basic fairness for gay people," he said.
Cleveland Heights councilman Jimmy Hicks Jr., a minister and leading opponent of the registry, said he was disappointed by the vote. "We have a registry that legitimizes a lifestyle," he said. "I don't believe
it's the role of municipal government to legitimize a lifestyle, but I guess the people have said I'm wrong."
Recognition would not be binding on courts, governments, or private companies. Supporters hope it will make it easier for couples to share employment benefits, inherit property, and obtain hospital visitation rights.
Domestic registries have been created by municipal councils or state legislatures elsewhere but not through a ballot issue, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group that tracks such issues in every state. The city council in Cleveland Heights, a community of 50,000, unanimously approved putting the registry question on the ballot. Last year it adopted Ohio's first municipal ordinance giving health benefits to same-sex partners of city