Activists Fall Short In Effort To Repeal Same-Sex Benefits Law

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP)- Activists have apparently failed to get enough signatures for a referendum to repeal the first city ordinance in Ohio extending health benefits to same-sex partners of city workers.

But supporters of the effort say there are still several legal disputes to be ironed out before the referendum effort can be declared dead.

On May 15, City Council approved the ordinance, which allows homosexuals who work for the city to have their domestic partners covered by the city's insurance plan as if they were married.

A citizens group then started a petition campaign to put the issue to a referendum. The group needed to collect 5,355 signatures in order to qualify for a referendum, according to John Gibbon, law director of the Cleveland suburb of 51,000 residents.

Late Wednesday, the group handed 5,287 signatures over to the city, according to Tracie Moore, a spokeswoman for the citizens group.

Gibbon said at least 600 of the signatures are invalid because they were improperly filed.

"I believe that the clerk of council will take the position that they have not met the threshold and therefore we will not proceed further," Gibbon said.

"I anticipate a lawsuit" on that decision, Gibbon said.

Moore said Thursday the group got all the signatures it was told were necessary, but the city and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections kept raising the number of signatures they need to qualify.

"We got a different number every time we called," she said. "We did everything as a committee what we set out to do. We exceeded every goal we were told to meet."

David R. Langdon, a Cincinnati attorney working with Moore's group, said the group "has been getting the run around" about how many signatures were needed.

"My guess is that's ultimately going to have to be litigated."

When the ordinance was first debated, Moore said at a public forum, "I consider this ordinance an affront on marriage. A man cannot be a woman and a woman cannot be a man. What is your legal justification for redefining marriage?"

On Thursday she said the petition drive was about good government, not homosexuality.

"What we really want is for this issue to be placed on the ballot and let the people vote on it," Moore said. "There is great concern among people in the community that our city council did not listen to the citizens."

Across the country, 128 local governments offer health benefits to same-sex couples, according to Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C., gay political organization.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)