CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Balloons decorated city hall as unmarried couples, gay and straight, lined up Monday to be among the first to sign up for the city's domestic partner registry, the first in the nation created by voters.
Sixteen gay couples, about evenly split between pairs of men and women, signed up during the first hour before the first heterosexual couple got in line, sending up a cheer in the atrium of city hall in this well-to-do Cleveland suburb.
"It's OK. We accept you," laughed Nancy Thrams, 59, who with her partner, Fran Twomey, 47, had worked to gain approval of the registry and got the chance to be first to sign up. "It just feels great. It feels equalizing," Twomey said.
When the office closed at 3 p.m., 26 couples had registered. Two of the couples were heterosexual, said Susanna Niermann O'Neil, director of community services.
The recognition is not binding on courts, governments or companies. But supporters hope registration will make it easier for couples to share employment benefits, inherit property and get hospital visiting rights.
The registry, which passed with 55 percent of the vote in November in this community of 50,000, was the first such measure adopted by way of the ballot, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Outside city hall, a lone protester denounced the registry as promoting immorality.
Partners, under penalty of perjury, must specify that they share a home, have a "relationship of mutual interdependence," are at least 18 years old and do not have a married, civil union or domestic partnership relationship with a third person.
The registry comes less than a week after the Ohio legislature passed one of the country's most-far reaching bans on gay marriage.
Domestic registries have been created by city councils and state legislatures elsewhere. The Vermont legislature passed the nation's first law creating civil unions for same-sex couples, and California created a statewide registry for gay couples that gives them some of the legal rights of married couples.
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