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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

Dozens sign Toledo's domestic partner registry

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The city s registry is available to
both gay and straight couples. The city s registry is available to both gay and straight couples.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

David Harvey and Bill Hill have been a committed couple for more than two decades.

In all that time, they have had nothing governmental linking them together - nothing in the line of paperwork.

To their delight, that changed in June when they became the 65th couple to sign the city of Toledo's domestic partnership registry.

"We first heard about it we called immediately to get the application," Mr. Harvey, 54, said. "We would have been an even lower number on the list but there were a lot of things going on with work and life, but we are still very, very pleased with it."

Before it was approved, the registry encountered some local opposition, including from the Toledo Catholic Diocese. It became law on Nov. 21, 2007, with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's signature.

One month later - a year ago today - eight couples signed up for the list on its first day. It was hailed by supporters as a progressive move toward same-sex rights and equality.

Five female and three male couples were placed on the registry that first day.

Since then the number has increased to 91 couples but now stands at 89 after two asked to be removed. All but five of the couples listed residences in Toledo or its suburbs.

It appears that 14 couples are male-female while the others are same-sex couples.

One of the most recent couples on the registry, Marcy Kurucz and Nicholas Kulakowski, have been together for 25 years and never saw the need to get married.

"We did it for heath insurance because his company said they were going to pick me up but then didn't," Ms. Kurucz, 50, said. "The biggest reason was for insurance purposes because I am not working and he wanted to get health insurance for me."

Some might ask: Why not just get married?

"We just like how our relationship is now and why change it for a piece of paper?" Ms. Kurucz said.

Toledo became the largest city in Ohio to create a domestic-partner registry last year.

It calls for the couples to sign a form declaring their "domestic partnership" and affirm 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.

Cleveland City Council voted 13-7 just two weeks ago to make Cleveland the third Ohio city with a domestic partner registry for gay or other unmarried couples.

Suburban Cleveland Heights adopted a similar law in 2003 and allows couples to declare their domestic partnerships.

More than three dozen municipalities and counties in the nation have such registries, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Similar to supporters of the Toledo registry, proponents of the Cleveland measure said it could cultivate a gay-friendly image for Cleveland and even encourage people to move there.

Renae Dupler, whose partner, Kelly Hissem, legally changed her last name to Dupler, said the registry was a way to get health benefits for her from the BP Refinery in suburban Oregon.

"It gives you some recognition, and it's not like we were asking for anything special," Mrs. Dupler said. "We actually thought about going to Canada and getting married but it wouldn't do anything for us here and would not be recognized."

The couple signed the registry in May and then in October held a commitment ceremony for friends and family at Maumee Bay State Park lodge and resort.

Toledo City Council passed the registry 10-2 with now-former Councilmen Rob Ludeman and Joe Birmingham casting votes against it.

Mr. Ludeman's successor, D. Michael Collins, said he also would have voted against it and Mr. Birmingham's successor, Lindsay Webb, said she is unsure how she would have voted.

"I see it as a civil rights issue and I'm not sure providing a domestic registry is proper for the city," Ms. Webb said. "I think we need to stick to streets, and police, and fire."

Mr. Collins also said it "should be a civil rights issue and the city should not be responsible for the registration process."

Councilman Tom Waniewski, a Republican who took the seat formerly occupied by Ellen Grachek, said he would have voted no.

"At the time I was very strongly against it and I don't see anything that would change my mind," Mr. Waniewski said. "I feel very strongly in a man-and-woman relationship."

If the other council members kept their votes unchanged, the measure would still pass.

Among the Toledo-area employers that extend rights to domestic partners are the University of Toledo and BP America Inc.

"BP is a company that values a diverse and inclusive work force and we do extend domestic partnership benefits to our employees," said company spokesman Scott Dean.

Matt Lockwood, UT spokesman, said the health benefits have been extended to employees' domestic partners at the school's main campus since April, 2006. University employees at the health sciences campus will have the same option beginning Jan. 1.

In January, the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association board of directors voted to extend vision health-care coverage to life partners - both heterosexual and same-sex couples - of union members.

To qualify, members must provide proof of their partnership, such as a joint lease or joint banking account, at the city's human resources department.

The association does not require same-sex couples to register with the city's domestic partnership registry to qualify.

"It seems to be working when you look at the number of couples and how companies are treating it," said Councilman Joe McNamara, who sponsored the registry ordinance last year.

Nothing in the law should be construed as treating a domestic partnership as a marriage, according to the ordinance that was approved.

Registering as a domestic partner costs $25 and comes with a certificate from the clerk of council. A marriage license in Lucas County costs $50. Filing the paperwork for divorce or legal separation costs $250 for couples with children and $200 for those without.

Getting off the registry is free.

In comparison to the 88 domestic partnerships, there were 4,767 marriage licenses issued by Lucas County Common Pleas Court from Jan. 1 to Dec. 12.

Some have argued that a domestic registry circumvents Ohio's 2004 gay-marriage ban.

Gay marriage, which now is legal only in Connecticut and Massachusetts, has been rejected across the country.

Voters approved bans on same-sex marriage in 30 states, including Ohio. However, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation released a survey earlier this month that found most Americans favor other legal protections for gay and transgender people.

The poll, which was conducted the week after voters outlawed gay marriage in California, Arizona, and Florida, showed that 63 percent of U.S. adults support expanding hate-crime laws to include protections for gay people, 75 percent support offering some type of legal recognition to same-sex couples, and about half support extending rights to fair housing and employment to gay and transgender people.

Last month, a Connecticut a judge cleared the way for gay marriage to begin in that state - which was a victory for advocates reeling from California's referendum that banned same-sex unions in that state.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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