CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO Registry for couples takes effect

Voters approved the registry in November.
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) -- The nation's first domestic partner registry created by a vote was open for business.
An estimated 100 unmarried couples were expected to show up today at city hall on the registry's opening day, Mayor Ed Kelley said.
"This is definitely significant for us," Kelley said.
Dawn Fasick, 37, and Deborah Thompson, 45, of Cleveland Heights, showed up at city hall at 11:30 p.m. Sunday and spent the night in their heated Ford Explorer sharing coffee so that they could be among the first to register.
"I wanted to be able to express my love to my girlfriend and express my joy to everyone who is going to be here," said Fasick, an employee at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Walton Hills.
Thompson, a secretary at a Cleveland executive search firm, said the registry amounted to a public show of their commitment to each other.
"It gives us a step forward. It gives us a way to show to the world and families that we're committed, we're a couple," she said.
The two walked hand-in-hand into city hall two hours before the registry opened and got a ticket stub making them third in line. The first spots were reserved for the people who led the registry vote effort.
Appreciates the support
Keli Zehnder, 37, and her partner, Deborah Smith, 44, planned to be there despite knowing the registration won't have any legal weight. The couple of seven years has powers of attorney and wills spelling out their wishes regarding each other and their two young daughters.
"Why is this so important to me? Seventy-six hundred of my neighbors voted for this. My neighbors said, 'We support your family,"' Zehnder said.
In November, voters of the Cleveland suburb of 50,000 people approved the first ballot-box recognition for gay and straight unmarried partners by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
The recognition is not binding on courts, governments or private companies. Supporters hope, however, it will make it easier for couples to share employment benefits, inherit property or get hospital visiting rights.
Opponents, including the Cleveland Heights Family First Initiative, say it's wrong for a city to legitimize a lifestyle many disagree with. A group statement said the registry attempts to redefine marriage and that "will have very serious negative effects on our society as a whole."
Diverse population
Located about 10 miles southeast of Cleveland, Cleveland Heights is home to middle- and upper-class professionals and also boasts a racially diverse population, funky clothing shops, artsy cafes, family-owned restaurants and historic homes.
Only 970 people, or 1.9 percent of residents, reported living with an unmarried partner, according to the census.
Kelley said the city already weathered similar controversy two years ago when it adopted Ohio's first municipal ordinance giving health benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
"In Cleveland Heights not only do we have racial diversity, we have religious diversity, we have this diversity. I'm very proud of that," Kelley said.
How it works
The registration is open to all unmarried couples. It costs $50 for residents and $65 for nonresidents.
Kelley said he's taken calls from out-of-state couples who are interested in registering. Eventually, the city will offer online and mail registration, he said.
Community services director Susanna Niermann O'Neil said the process will take about 10 minutes for each couple, many of whom are planning to take photos or have family attend.
"We just want it to be nice," she said.
The city will file copies of applications and mail certificates. The couples will take home notarized originals. To cancel the registration, couples must send a certified letter to the city.