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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2003
David Caldwell, (216) 965-3690
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS GROUP FILES NEARLY 6,000 SIGNATURES TO CREATE DOMESTIC PARTNER REGISTRY
Heights Voters Aim To Become First In Nation To Recognize Same-Sex Relationships
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO - Representatives from Heights Families for Equality (HFE) submitted at least 5,746 signatures - over 2,000 more than needed - at Cleveland Heights City Hall today to place its domestic partner registry proposal on the November ballot.
"The avalanche of support we've received for this proposal has been stunning," said HFE's David Caldwell. "Hundreds of volunteers have identified thousands of voters who want this legislation to pass. We're confident today that we're turning in enough signatures to place this proposal on the ballot. But even more importantly, we're going to win. We've identified over half the base of supporters we'll need to pass this legislation in November."
HFE: 7,000 one-on-one conversations so far
HFE volunteers have talked with over 7,000 voters in the last three months. Fifty HFE volunteers took to the streets on Sunday to finish the signature drive, knocking on doors in neighborhoods across Cleveland Heights. Sunday's canvassers included a team of five from Citizens to Restore Fairness in Cincinnati, a field organizer from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and an associate field director from the Human Rights Campaign.
"We're doing this work the right way," said Caldwell. "We're having clear, honest conversations - person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor. We've seen over 50% support in every neighborhood in Cleveland Heights, and 2-to-1 across the city. And those conversations aren't going to stop. We're going to keep talking with a broad array of public officials, opinion leaders, and - most importantly - individual voters. We're over halfway there - but we're not going to take a single vote for granted. We're going to earn every vote."
Bid to create Ohio's first registry
The registry would be the first of its kind in Ohio, and the first in the nation to be created by a ballot initiative.
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. "Gay and lesbian 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 each other if one dies - can be denied to them at life's most painful moments."
Around the country, over fifty local governments 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.
Registries benefit families, institutions
Domestic partner registries make it easier for institutions to establish clear policies for dealing with nonmarital families. The establishment of a registry gives those institutions an easy way to provide rights and benefits to domestic partners without having to go through the administrative hassles of identifying and verifying domestic partner relationships.
"Domestic partner registries provide a framework for public, private, and legal institutions that want to treat these families as families," 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."
Registry not just for gays and lesbians; seniors often benefit
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." Mark Beach, a spokesperson for the California AARP, which supported that state's registry law, added that registries can also help with legal issues such as wills or finances. "It's a basic civil-rights issue," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Cleveland Heights has history of tolerance, diversity
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 benefits to the same-sex partners of 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 we just had 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."
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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 &ldquoattracts a rich blend of diverse, interesting and talented people.&rdquo