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HFE News Archive - PRESS RELEASE
JOINT NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 17, 2002
COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS HAPPY TO SEE LEGAL CLOUD OVER CLEVELAND HEIGHTS DOMESTIC PARTNER BENEFITS ORDINANCE LIFTED
Will monitor activities of anti-gay opposition groups
On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that opponents of the Cleveland Heights domestic partner ordinance had failed to gather enough signatures to force an election on the ordinance. In a 7-0 decision, the Court denied the opponents' claim that "registered voter" meant "person who actually voted." The court also held that - even granting the opposition's claims about the voter registration lists - the petitions submitted "still contained insufficient signatures" to force a vote.
"We're not surprised that the petitioners failed to gather enough signatures in a city like Cleveland Heights. This city has long been known for treating people fairly, and opponents of this law were always going to have a hard time here," said David Caldwell of Heights Families for Equality.
"We're heartened that so many people refused to sign the petition - we think it sends a strong message. People who might move here, businesses which might relocate here, prospective city employees - all of them will know now that Cleveland Heights is a city which embraces all of its city workers, regardless of sexual orientation," Caldwell added.
Opponents of the ordinance often use religious arguments to characterize their positions - arguing, for example, that certain biblical passages prohibit homosexuality and that the ordinance would legitimize the loving relationships of gays and lesbians who work for the city.
"I celebrate the decision of the Court as an affirmation of the basic human rights and civil liberties due to all God's people. Our religious diversity is a gift that enhances the uniqueness of our community. I welcome future opportunities to dialogue with those whose views differ from mine. Nonetheless, putting aside our religious differences today, the issue for me was a matter of justice, and today, justice prevailed," said Rev. Dan Bryant, pastor of Church of the Redeemer United Methodist Church.
Passage of the ordinance was a watershed victory for equal rights for Ohio's gay and lesbian community. Cleveland Heights is the only city in Ohio to provide domestic partner benefits to city employees. "Mayor Ed Kelley, Councilwoman Nancy Dietrich, and the Cleveland Heights City Council continued their city's rich tradition of equal rights when they cast their historic vote to offer the same benefits to their lesbian and gay employees that are afforded to their married colleagues," said Patrick Shepherd, president of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats.
The city is not the first employer to offer domestic partner benefits, however. Cleveland Heights joins 172 Fortune 500 companies, 170 colleges and universities, nine state governments, and 134 local governments and government agencies in granting partner benefits to gays and lesbians. "We look forward to the day when more cities in Greater Cleveland and around Ohio decide to make the commitment to equal rights for all their employees. We are glad that Cleveland Heights has sent a message to gays and lesbians that they are full members of the community - and of its workforce," said Janet Kuster, President of the Board of the Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland.
Although the referendum lawsuit is over, the opposition still has other avenues by which they may work to overturn the domestic partner ordinance, or other city ordinances that extend equal protection to gays and lesbians. One organization with which the opposition has been working - the American Family Association, of Tupelo, Mississippi - has a pattern of sponsoring anti-gay ballot measures around the country, including in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 2002. In 2001 - in Michigan alone - the AFA sponsored anti-gay initiatives in Traverse City, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, and Kalamazoo. In Ypsilanti, they are making a second try at repealing that city's anti-bias law.
"We were already preparing to win a November election on this ordinance, and we'll be ready to win any election in the future," said Keli Zehnder, volunteer coordinator for Heights Families for Equality. "We're going to proceed as if the opposition will keep working to repeal these benefits until we learn otherwise."
Miami-Dade County in Florida just voted down an anti-gay ballot measure, and the opposition immediately announced plans for another signature drive. "We've never had to fight an anti-gay measure in Cleveland Heights, so we were caught a bit off-guard. Many of us thought that it couldn't happen here in Cleveland Heights, the city we love. We won't be caught off-guard in the future," Zehnder added.
Heights Families for Equality is a coalition of gay and non-gay Cleveland Heights residents working to defend equal rights for all.
Church of the Redeemer United Methodist Church welcomes, values and affirms all people as children of God thereby witnessing to the love God has for all people regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, income level, education or abilities.
Cleveland Stonewall Democrats is a club devoted to advancing equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, by educating and promoting Democratic candidates who support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.
The Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland is an organization that works toward a society free of homophobia and gender oppression by advancing the respect, dignity and human rights of the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community.
David Caldwell, Heights Families For Equality, (216) 965-3690
Dan Bryant, Church of the Redeemer United Methodist, (216) 932-2065
Patrick Shepherd, Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, (216) 647-7437
Janet Kuster, The Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland, (216) 651-5428
Keli Zehnder, Heights Families For Equality, (216) 932-8659
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