City registry makes it official for 8 couples

12/22/2007
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kim Welter, left, and Merri Bame display their certificate. They arrived yesterday before Carol Bresnahan and Michelle Stecker at Government Center, but ceded their place in line.
Kim Welter, left, and Merri Bame display their certificate. They arrived yesterday before Carol Bresnahan and Michelle Stecker at Government Center, but ceded their place in line.

Carol Bresnahan and Michelle Stecker quietly made Toledo history at 8 a.m. yesterday when they became the first same-sex couple to file under the city's new domestic-partner registry.

Eight couples signed up yesterday for the registry on its first day.

There were five female couples and three male couples.

"We had difficulty proving we were a partnership, and we had difficulty getting health benefits," said Ms. Stecker, president of EqualityToledo, who researched and drafted the ordinance for Toledo City Council.

Michelle Stecker, left, and Carol Bresnahan receive congratulations from Clerk Jerry Dendinger at One Government Center.
Michelle Stecker, left, and Carol Bresnahan receive congratulations from Clerk Jerry Dendinger at One Government Center.

"We have to do something more official to prove our relationship."

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on Nov. 21 signed the law that made Toledo the largest city in Ohio to create a domestic-partner registry.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he is a "strong Christian believer" who does not advocate alternative lifestyles, but he believes in minority rights and diversity.

The law took effect 30 days after it was passed 10-2 by Toledo City Council.

Councilmen Rob Ludeman and Joe Birmingham cast the votes against.

The ordinance requires the clerk of council to set up a registry for domestic-partner couples, whether of the same or opposite sexes.

Two men, who identified themselves to the clerk as Gregory Clinton of 111 Lyric Lane and Michael A. Carr, Jr., of 3375 Airport Hwy., submitted 228 signatures on Dec. 13 in a referendum attempt to have the law repealed.

Neither could be reached for comment last night.

They would have needed 9,482 valid signatures from registered Toledo voters to be successful, Clerk of Council Gerald Dendinger said.

Ms. Bresnahan, who is the vice provost of the University of Toledo, said bigotry is to blame for those who oppose the law.

"It's their religious beliefs, and bigotry in the name of religion is still bigotry," Ms. Bresnahan said.

Kim Welter and her life partner since 1999, Merri Bame, arrived first yesterday morning - a full 30 minutes before the clerk's office opened.

But Ms. Welter and Ms. Bame waited for Ms. Bresnahan and Ms. Stecker to have the honor of being first.

"Today is a symbolic opportunity to say, 'Hey look, we really are a couple, we are committed to each other,'•" Ms. Welter said.

Registering as a domestic couple could allow same-sex couples to qualify for health benefits through some employers.

The couples signed a form declaring their "domestic partnership" and affirmed under penalty of perjury that they live together, are not married to anyone else or in a domestic partnership with anyone else, have an intimate relationship, are at least 18, and are not blood relatives.

Registering as a domestic partner costs $25 and comes with a certificate from the clerk of council.

Obtaining a marriage license at Lucas County Common Pleas Court costs $50.

The ordinance says that nothing in the law should be construed as treating a domestic partnership as a marriage.

A statement from the Toledo Catholic Diocese said that Bishop Leonard Blair was "confident that he speaks for many, many people in Toledo in expressing deep disappointment that both the City Council and the mayor have taken this action."

Sally Oberski, a spokesman for the diocese, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Joe McNamara, who is the sponsor of the ordinance, was on hand yesterday morning to view the first two couples receive their certificates.

"I think there are a lot of families that really appreciate this and it will help a lot of people," Mr. McNamara said.

Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with a 2006 population of about 47,100, enacted such a registry in 2003 after passage of a citizen initiative.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.