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Ohio / Cleveland Marriage ban effects
by elle / PD crosspost Thursday, Dec. 02, 2004 at 7:35 PM

Cleveland Heights will proceed with its domestic partner registry.

Heights officials, colleges take 'sue me' stance on marriage law

Thursday, December 02, 2004 Sandy Theis and Barb Galbincea Plain Dealer Bureau

Columbus - A state constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage, civil unions and other arrangements that "approximate" marriage takes effect today, but the ban won't have a noticeable impact - at least for now. Most public colleges that offer domestic partner benefits - even to same-sex couples - will continue doing so.

And Cleveland Heights will proceed with its domestic partner registry. University and city officials won't say so directly, but their message is clear: Sue us, and we'll take our chances in court. Those for and against the amendment agree that the registry, not the university benefits, will prompt the first lawsuit. "It's abundantly clear that the domestic partner registry is exactly what is prohibited by the constitutional amendment," said David Langdon, a Cincinnati lawyer who helped write the amendment, approved by voters on Nov. 2 as Issue 1.

The measure states that only marriages between "one man and one woman" are constitu- tional and prevents state and local governments from recognizing "a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." The registry, Langdon said, "is clearly designed to mimic marriage." Earlier this year, he failed to persuade a common pleas judge to toss out the registry on the grounds that it exceeded the city's home-rule powers and violated the state's Defense of Marriage Act. The case is on appeal, and Langdon argues that the amendment gives him new ammunition. Cleveland Heights Law Director John Gibbon disagreed. "The registry conveys no legal status whatsoever on the people signing it," he said. "If other people want to recognize it and say they are willing to create some kind of legal obligation, such as agreeing to give health benefits because of it, that's fine with us."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which will hold anti-Issue 1 protests around the state today, said it will help defeat efforts by Langdon or others who argue "that Issue 1 does anything other than restrict marriage." Langdon isn't sure when he will file the new challenge but doesn't expect it to be soon. "I know when we do, it will be tied up in litigation for two or three years, so what's two, three weeks, even months going to matter," he said. He said he could not comment on the universities' decision until he learned more about their individual benefit packages.

During the campaign, university officials warned that Issue 1's passage could end the benefits but stopped short of predicting it would ban them. Today, colleges are signaling a willingness to let the courts sort things out.

In a written statement issued Wednesday, Ohio State University said it will continue to offer the benefits "absent a judicial ruling" that orders it to stop.

Ohio University and Miami University agreed, saying they are prepared to defend their decisions in court, if necessary.

At Cleveland State, President Michael Schwartz said he expects a final decision today after conferring with the attorney general's office.

OSU law Professor Ruth Colker said the universities' posture allows them to avoid initiating costly and potentially unsuccessful litigation, while making a good-faith argument for continuing the benefits they view as a valuable recruiting tool.

"Given the vagueness of the language of Issue 1, it's hard for anyone to know what it really means," Colker said in an interview. "The best and clearest reading is that it bans gay marriage and civil unions and nothing else. Since we don't have gay marriage and civil unions in the state of Ohio right now, it really doesn't have any effect."

Five of Ohio's public colleges offer the domestic partner benefits to gay and straight, unmarried couples: CSU, Miami, OU, Youngstown State and OSU.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
stheis@plaind.com, 1-800-228-8272
Copyright 2004 cleveland.com. All Rights Reserved.

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