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Ohio County Oks Domestic Partner Benefits

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Feb 16, 2012
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Lawmakers in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on Tuesday approved the extension of domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples and their children, Cleveland.com reported.

The Cuyahoga County Council voted 6-4 in favor of giving health care benefits to children of gay couples--a benefit that is not extended to children of unmarried straight couples. The council said it made its decision because heterosexual couples can get married in order to receive benefits for their children.

"This is the first step to be more inclusive," said Council Vice President Sunny Simon, who introduced the legislation. "They have a choice to get married. This particular group has no choice. From my standpoint, the charter really mandates the new county government not engage in discriminatory practices. It’s just being just and fair."

The law was first introduced last August and originally provided benefits to children of both gay and straight couples. Citing financial concerns, the council members decided to extend the right to couples who cannot legally marry.

The city of Cleveland provided similar benefits to its gay workers last year.

"It was overdue," said Rob Rivera, president of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. "Bigger pictures, this is another sign of reform in this county. This is a huge step forward."

To receive the benefits, county employees and their partners must have shared a home for at least six months, get married if marriage for gays and lesbians becomes legal in the state and swear that they will have an "exclusive, committed, and intimate relationship for life."

Ohio currently does not recognize marriage for same-sex couples. Although there is no law that specifically prohibits gay couples from adopting, courts have not allowed them to do so. Additionally, transgender people cannot legally change their gender in the Buckeye State.

A Public Policy Polling survey in October reported that 32 percent of Ohio voters supported marriage equality, compared with 55 percent who said nuptials for gays and lesbians should remain illegal. A separate question on the same survey found that 62 percent of respondents support of some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples with 27 percent supporting marriage and 35 percent backing civil unions. Thirty-four percent of respondents did not want any legal recognition.

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