Proposed domestic partner registry starts debate

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) - This Cleveland suburb with a reputation for diversity is facing a possible ballot fight over a proposed domestic-partner registry.
The registry would give legal recognition to unmarried partners, whether gay or straight. Supporters say it would help them inherit property, share employment benefits or visit each other at hospitals that allow only kin.
The city of nearly 50,000 had 773 unmarried heterosexual couples in 2000, the U.S. Census shows. Last year, City Council adopted Ohio's first municipal ordinance giving health benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
A group known as Heights Families for Equality has collected 2,600 signatures, 73 percent of the 3,570 needed to get the proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot. Supporters expect to get the rest by late June, spokesman David Caldwell said.
Opponents said they don't want laws to endorse sexual preferences.
City Councilman Jimmie Hicks Jr. described the registry as an "attempt to further the homosexual agenda" in letters being mailed to hundreds of residents, seeking donations of time or money for an opposition campaign.
"I am not against homosexual residents," said Hicks, an ordained minister. "But when you want me to change laws because of your sexual preference -- why should we do that?"
Tracie Moore of the Cleveland Heights Families First Initiative, which also opposes the registry, said the supporters are "homosexual activists."
"Homosexuality is an extremely self-destructive behavior," Moore said.
Opponents had tried to get last year's health-benefits ordinance on the ballot, but failed to collect enough signatures. No city workers have sought benefits for domestic partners so far.
Nancy Thrams, a resident collecting signatures for the ballot initiative, hopes to use the registry with her partner, Fran Twomey.
"The opposition is going to get pretty verbal," Thrams said. "They're distorting the truth of what the actual ordinance is about. ... They're indicating our relationships are frivolous and uncommitted."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)