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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 23, 2003
David Caldwell, (216) 965-3690
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS GROUP ANNOUNCES BALLOT INITIATIVE TO ENACT CITY DOMESTIC PARTNER REGISTRY
Registry Would Be Ohio's First
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO - Heights Families for Equality (HFE) announced today that it will lead a ballot initiative campaign in 2003 to create Ohio's first registry for domestic partners.
A domestic partner registry allows a committed couple to create a legal record of their relationship.
"My wife and I, like all married couples, can take for granted legal protections that are difficult or impossible for unmarried couples to obtain," said HFE's David Caldwell. "Same-sex couples don't have the option of getting married to safeguard their rights, so even the most fundamental rights - like the right to visit an ailing partner in a hospital, or the right of partners to inherit from one another if one dies - can be denied to them at life's most painful moments."
In 2002, HFE helped to turn back an attempt to rescind the city's ordinance extending employment benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees. The community organization's volunteers had conversations with over 3,000 voters during the campaign.
Over fifty local governments around the country have begun to address some of the challenges facing unmarried partners by creating registries in which two committed adults can sign up for a fee, and declare that they share a life together. Communities as diverse as St. Louis, New Orleans, Key West, and Portland, Maine have created registries.
"Domestic partner registries provide a framework for public, private, and legal institutions that want to treat unmarried relationships with respect," added Caldwell. "Employers that want to provide domestic partner benefits or equal access to pensions and survivor benefits, hospitals that want to provide visitation rights, and schools that want to allow a partner to participate in a child's education can use registries to make it easier to grant those benefits in a way that's clear and fair for everyone. Courts considering wills, child custody and support agreements, or other legal arrangements between partners can use registries to help establish that domestic partner relationships exist."
Partners in gay and lesbian relationships are not the only beneficiaries of domestic partner registries. Many seniors live in committed nonmarital relationships, and registries around the country have proven to be very popular with retired couples.
"Retirees who are committed to a partner often can't afford to get married, for fear of losing Social Security survivors benefits or employer pensions," said HFE's Kay Heylman. "Registering these partnerships can give institutions like hospitals and other health care facilities a way to remove unnecessary barriers for people in these loving relationships."
Cleveland Heights has a history of leadership in bridging the gaps between its diverse communities. The inner-ring Cleveland suburb has long been a leader in promoting integration and fair housing. A city-sponsored 2001 visioning report said residents "value differences among themselves [and] unite in mutual respect and tolerance." Last year, Cleveland Heights became the first city in Ohio to extend domestic partner benefits to municipal employees.
"I've lived in Cleveland Heights most of my life," said HFE's Keli Zehnder. "My partner and I have been together for six years, and in just a few days, we'll have our second child together. Our friends and neighbors know us as a family, and we're looking forward to having our city recognize us as a family, too. HFE has always believed that all families count. We look forward to contributing to Cleveland Heights' tradition of leadership in treating all of our residents as full members of the community."
HFE looks forward to talking with the people of Cleveland Heights about the registry. "We had thousands of conversations with registered voters last year about the domestic partner benefits ordinance, so we got to know our neighbors and their views pretty well," said Caldwell. "We're confident most of our neighbors will support a domestic partner registry if we take the time to talk to them - and listen to them. Our signature drive will give us a chance to have thousands of those very important conversations, and give our neighbors an opportunity to support the legislation by signing the petition."
The paperwork for the initiative is still being prepared, so registered voters cannot sign the petition yet.
"We plan to file the initiative in the next week or so," said HFE's Nancy Thrams. "We're still consulting with our experts on a few questions about the measure's language, and working with the city on the proper format for the petitions. We want to make sure we have everything in order so that there will be no surprises in store."
Doug Braun, who helped spur the addition of sexual orientation to the city's anti-discrimination law in 1994, will join Caldwell, Heylman, Zehnder and Thrams as the five-member petition committee required by the city's charter.
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Heights Families for Equality is a coalition of gay and non-gay residents working to promote access to basic rights for all. Contributions may be made online at the group's web site, or sent to Heights Families for Equality, P.O. Box 181367, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio , is a racially diverse middle-class suburb of Cleveland with 50,750 residents. It is located about twenty minutes from downtown Cleveland and very close to University Circle, Cleveland's cultural center. According to its visioning report, the city "attracts a rich blend of diverse, interesting and talented people."