- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) — The nation’s first domestic-partner registry created directly by voters, giving homosexual and heterosexual unmarried couples the right to officially register as partners, opened for business yesterday.

Five couples were in line at 9 a.m. when the Cleveland suburb began its registration program, approved by voters in November.

“There we go,” said Larry Shaw, parks and recreation commissioner, as he notarized the first registration for Nancy Thrams, 59, and Fran Twomey, 47.

“It just feels great. It feels equalizing,” Miss Twomey said.

Miss Thrams and Miss Twomey had been active in supporting the referendum, which Miss Thrams said had important symbolic value.

“The registry doesn’t give us any rights, but what’s important to me is recognition. It gives us validation,” Miss Thrams said.

The recognition is not binding on courts, governments or private companies. But supporters hope it will make it easier for couples to share employment benefits, inherit property or get hospital visiting rights. At the same time, opponents fear it could one day undermine marriage.

In the first hour, 17 couples registered, including one unmarried heterosexual couple. An estimated 100 unmarried couples were expected to show up at City Hall by the end of the day, Mayor Ed Kelley had said earlier.

The registration is open to all unmarried couples. It costs $50 for residents and $65 for nonresidents. Eventually, the city will offer online and mail registration, the mayor said.

Domestic registries have been created by councils and state legislatures elsewhere. The Vermont General Assembly passed the nation’s first law creating civil unions for same-sex couples, and California created a statewide registry for same-sex couples and gave them some of the legal standing of married spouses.

The Cleveland Heights initiative — passed with 55 percent of the vote in the suburb of 50,000 — was the first through a ballot issue, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Opponents of the measure, including the Cleveland Heights Family First Initiative, say it is wrong for a city to legitimize a lifestyle many disagree with. A group statement said the registry attempts to redefine marriage and that “will have very serious negative effects on our society as a whole.”

The opening of the Cleveland Heights registry came less than a week after the Ohio General Assembly passed one of the country’s most far-reaching bans on homosexual “marriage.” The bill exempts municipalities, so it shouldn’t have an effect on the registry.

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