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Published: Tuesday, 11/5/2002

A proposal: City benefits for true love

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo city employees in a same-sex partnership or part of an unmarried heterosexual couple might get benefits for partners by the end of the year.

Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said he will finish revising a draft of domestic partner benefits legislation by Friday.

He plans to submit the ordinance for Toledo City Council's Nov. 19 meeting agenda. Council could pass it in December; if it does, it would become a pioneer among Ohio municipalities. Cleveland Heights is the only Ohio city that offers domestic partner benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group in Washington.

If the Toledo ordinance passes, both same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual partners will be eligible for the benefits that spouses of city employees receive, including medical insurance and retirement plan coverage.

“The law is a part of understanding that a family doesn't always look the same way, but that doesn't mean they should be treated differently,” said David Beller, a UT law student who helped draft the legislation.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said that offering domestic partner benefits would help the city attract and retain talented workers.

Paying for domestic partner benefits raises an employer's overall health insurance costs by 1 to 3 percent, according to the Human Rights Project.

The proposed 2002 Toledo budget set aside about $18.7 million for employee medical insurance. An increase of 2 percent would equal $374,850 in extra costs.

The proposal may include the establishment of a city registry so couples could register their partnerships with the clerk of courts.

To register, couples would have to provide proof of a committed relationship, such as a joint checking account or a mortgage in both names.

The registry would allow city employees to receive domestic partner benefits. It could also help couples get similar benefits from private employers.

“As a city, we need to be inclusive to everybody and not be judgmental,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “Whenever two people love each other and are committed to each other, we should celebrate that.”

The part of the ordinance creating the registry might not make it to council. Mr. Kapszukiewicz said some councilmen have concerns that the registry would prompt opposition.

“I think some people would feel threatened. They would think a registry is like marriage,” Councilman Louis Escobar said. “I think that's where some people will start to have hesitancy.” Mr. Escobar, who is openly gay, told council in June he planned to propose an ordinance granting domestic partner benefits.

He said yesterday Mr. Kapszukiewicz was working on similar legislation at the same time. He said his fellow councilman, who is married, is a perfect spokesman for the law because “sometimes people get the impression only gays think these are important issues.”

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he supports the registry, but wants to “submit the ordinance that has the best chance of passing.” He will decide by the end of the week whether to include the city registry in the law.

Of the Toledo council members that could be reached last night, Wilma Brown said she would support a domestic partner benefit law, Rob Ludeman said he would not support it, and Betty Shultz and Gene Zmuda said they could not comment because they had not seen the legislation.

Mr. Ludeman contended it would be difficult and costly to monitor who are true domestic partners and those who are just roommates sharing expenses.

“I think you would run into an administrative mess and it would cost the taxpayers more than they would want,” he said.

The city of Ann Arbor has allowed couples to register as domestic partners since 1992. The city clerk's office keeps records of both same-sex and heterosexual domestic partnerships for over 600 couples from all over the country, research clerk Chris Kallas said.

Around the nation, 133 local governments, 172 Fortune 500 companies, and 170 colleges and universities offer domestic partner benefits to employees, according to the Human Rights Project.

Cleveland Heights voted to offer domestic partner benefits to workers earlier this year. Some residents challenged the law, but not enough people signed a petition to force a vote on the issue, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in September.

A committee in Columbus is considering proposing similar legislation.



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