Councilman sues over first domestic registry created through vote

By CONNIE MABIN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A lawsuit claims the nation's first voter-approved domestic partner registry is unconstitutional and should be overturned.

The Rev. Jimmie Hicks Jr., a Cleveland Heights councilman, sued in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, seeking to stop the Cleveland suburb from continuing to register gay and straight unmarried couples.

The initiative creating the registry passed with 55 percent of the vote last November in the community of 50,000.

"I thought the public just decided," said David Caldwell of the pro-registry Heights Families for Equality. "Now we are going to have to spend our money defending our position against Jimmie Hicks' lawsuit."

Hicks did not return messages seeking comment Monday.

His lawyer, David Langdon, said Hicks believes Cleveland Heights "should not be legitimizing" relationships of same-sex couples.

The registry is an attempt to "circumvent" the state's ban on gay marriage, Langdon said.

The registry's recognition is not binding on courts, governments or employers. But supporters hope it will make it easier for couples to share employment benefits, inherit property or get hospital visiting rights.

Hicks, who had campaigned against the registry, filed the lawsuit Thursday. It challenges the constitutionality of the registry, claiming the city did not have the proper authority to create it.

Cleveland Heights Mayor Edward Kelley said he's confident the city will prevail in court and will continue to register unmarried couples. No hearing date has been set.

"In one respect I'm sad that a lawsuit was filed. On the other hand, they have a right to do what they think they need to do," Kelley said Monday.

Caldwell said supporters took extra care when drafting theballot language to make sure it was legal.

Hicks sued against the advice of Cleveland Heights law director John Gibbon, who told the councilman last month that he believed the registry was legal.

Since the registry opened last month at City Hall -- which was decorated with balloons for the occasion -- 50 couples have signed up, Kelley said. Some of the 26 couples who registered the first day had spent the night in their cars so they could be among the first.

The Cleveland Heights initiative was the first through a ballot issue, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Under the notarized one-page "Declaration of Domestic Partnership," partners must specify under penalty of perjury that they share a common residence, have a "relationship of mutual interdependence," are at least 18 years old and don't have a married, civil union or domestic partnership relationship with a third person.

Registration costs $50 for residents and $65 for nonresidents.

It's available online and by mail. To cancel the registration, couples must send a certified letter to the city.

Domestic registries have been created by councils and statelegislatures elsewhere. The Vermont Legislature passed the nation's first law creating civil unions for same-sex couples, and California created a statewide registry for same-sex couples and gives them some of the legal standing of married spouses.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)