Bishop urges area Catholics to reject city's domestic-partner registry
By Jenni Laidman

.- The leader of the Toledo Catholic Diocese yesterday urged parishioners to oppose the city’s creation of a domestic-partner registry, but the only thing that can slow the legislation now is a mayoral veto.

A statement issued by Bishop Leonard P. Blair, read at Sunday Mass, said: “We ought not to be encouraging cohabitation by giving it legal recognition as an alternative to marriage.”

The bishop asked parishioners to “join me in opposing measures like the domestic-partnership registry, particularly when there has been little time for public discussion.”

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has until the end of the day Friday to act on legislation approved by City Council on Tuesday in a 10-2 vote. The legislation allows same-sex or heterosexual unmarried couples to register as domestic partners, providing employers who want to offer benefits to unmarried couples a way to check their relationship status.

Mayor Finkbeiner’s spokesman, Brian Schwartz, says the mayor has not decided what he will do.

The mayor has 10 days to sign or veto the legislation or do nothing, which has the same effect as signing the ordinance.
The legislation passed with one vote more than the nine votes required to override a veto.

“I don’t think [the legislation] was rushed through,” said Councilman Joe McNamara, who introduced the registry as a way to announce Toledo’s tolerance for diversity in its desire to attract residents.

“Members of council had it for weeks. We had a public hearing. There were multiple articles in The Blade. No one came to the hearing in opposition. It went through normal channels,” he said.

The issue passed council a week after it first became public in an article in The Blade on Nov. 6, the first of two articles and one editorial published before council’s vote Nov. 13.

But Councilman Rob Ludeman, one of the two “no” votes on the registry issue, also said it was rushed.

“I was disappointed with the way the whole issue was rushed through council almost as if some council members were trying to get it done before there could be much public comment,” Mr. Ludeman said.

Although no one from the diocese spoke at a public hearing on the measure Nov. 9, Mr. Ludeman said council members received a letter from the bishop’s office, urging the process be slowed, before the Nov. 13 vote.

Under the legislation, couples would pay $25 to register with the clerk of City Council. Each member of the couple would be required to sign an affidavit stating they are in an intimate relationship, share a residence, are at least 18 years old, and are not blood relatives.

David Mann, president of EqualityToledo Community Action, which long has worked for registry legislation, said such a law assists Toledo’s families.

“We strongly believe this will only help Toledo families get access to health care,” Mr. Mann said. “It’s the right thing to do. Toledoans deserve the right to have health care, and have access to their partner when they’re sick, and to join with their families in a family plan at a health club. All these things are what a domestic registry is about.

“As a Catholic, I’m sad to see that the bishop and the diocese has come out to oppose the domestic-partners registry,” he said.

But other area Catholics support the bishop’s position.

“I think it’s wonderful. I’m grateful for what he did,” said Joan Sprouse of Oregon after Mass at St. Catherine of Siena. “I think it was underhanded that they rushed it through without letting other people, people opposed to it, speak.”

“We voted against the gay rights as far as marriage and everything,” said Mary McGarry of Toledo, referring to the Ohio constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004 that defined marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman.

“I don’t know what the big deal is. We’ve already prevoted that,” she said.

Bishop Blair’s letter to parishioners cited the constitutional amendment.

“Not only religious faith, but also human reason, tell us that the way to move our community forward is to strengthen the institution of marriage, not weaken it by giving legal standing to lifestyles that are not in keeping with the God-given meaning and purpose of marriage,” the statement says.

But Mr. McNamara says the domestic-partners registration in no way violates the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, an opinion also given by the city’s law director, John Madigan.

“It is not marriage. It doesn’t create any rights, benefits, or privileges that are associated with marriage,” Mr. McNamara said. “What this legislation is about is property rights,” he said, allowing people to confer property rights on whomever they wish.

Nor does the legislation introduce anything new to the city, he said, because the city already allows domestic-partner benefits in the fire and police department employees.

Domestic-partner benefits also are offered by the University of Toledo and Owens-Corning, he said.

Mr. McNamara is Catholic.

“I’m trying to serve God and my fellow man. I’m trying to help as many people as I possibly can. I think this legislation is good for Toledo.”

Printed with the permission of The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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