A Step Towards Equality

Dayton Allows Domestic Partnership for Same-Sex Couples

By Emma Jarman

On Wednesday, May 2, the City of Dayton unanimously approved an ordinance that allows couples, regardless of sexual orientation, the ability to enter a domestic partnership and receive benefits including health insurance coverage, hospital visitation rights and pickup privileges for children after school. The idea of domestic partnerships is not new to the area – Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Toledo, Athens and the Village of Yellow Springs all have similar ordinances – but in an age where a state, such as North Carolina, still exercises its lawmaking abilities to impede on the civil rights of its citizens, ordinances such as this demonstrate the same sort of trailblazing attitude toward a future of equality and acceptance that Dayton has been known for since its defining years as a center for innovation.

Murmurs of drafting an ordinance such as this began back in 2010, said Mayor Gary Leitzell via Email, when some members of the gay community brought the idea to his attention.

“I told them at the time that I would support such an initiative,” said Leitzell. “I have always supported equal rights.”  The ordinance was formulated just a few weeks ago and he stood his ground, held his position, and, fortunately, had the rest of the City Commissioners alongside him.

Beginning June 1, couples 18 years of age or older, gay or straight may come to Dayton to register their relationship as a domestic partnership. Residence in the city is not a requirement. The only rules are the age restriction, and that the couple have a shared residence, be in a committed relationship, not be married or domestically partnered with anyone else and not have any blood relation to each other. There is a $50 fee to add your names to the registry.  While Dayton-area businesses are not compelled to honor the registry or offer benefits based on domestic partnership, it is not to say they are not willing. A number of area businesses came forward during the processing of this ordinance that said “if you do this, we’ll honor it,” said Commissioner Nan Whaley, one of the five City Commissioners who unanimously voted in favor of the ordinance.

“It surprises folks,” noted Whaley. “Southwest Ohio is really conservative, but I look at Dayton as a place that is progressive. An urban enclave that believes everyone should be welcomed. It’s something we can really be proud of.”

And proud we are. Encouraging an open and welcoming environment has long been an issue in Dayton’s cultural discussion. Marriage equality and gay rights are a more recent addition to the dialogue, but this isn’t the first time the City of Dayton has made significant efforts to posit itself as a fully welcoming place.

“The first step was taken several years ago with the anti-discrimination ordinance that protected city employees,” said Leitzell. “This [domestic partnership ordinance] is just a continuation of that. If we are going to be a welcoming city to immigrants then we must be a welcoming city to all people.”

It seems this is a case where the legislation is long overdue. With a unanimous favorable vote, more than 50 letters in favor of the ordinance and only one dissenting letter from an area Reverend. The lack of opposition shows the city has had some time to come around, and it’s about time this ordinance followed.

“In ’99 they (the City Commission) tried to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance for housing and it did not pass,” said Whaley. “In November 2007 it came up again and did pass for a 3-1-1 vote. Now it’s 5-0. You’re seeing a change.”

Dayton has gotten a lot of flak in the last few years, fingered as a dying city, a shell of what it once was. It is ordinances and attitudes like this, thinks the Mayor, that are a great way to turn the city around and point towards growth.

“If we want to grow as a city and attract and retain young, talented professionals then we need to be known as being a progressive city,” said Leitzell. “Historically, multicultural cities with progressive attitudes thrived and flourished. If we change the attitude of the citizens we will change the dynamic of the city.” It is for this reason we should focus more on the growth of new ideals and proposals in Dayton as opposed to the restrictive attitudes of places such as North Carolina and its amendment banning gay marriage. “If the majority of people in North Carolina want to place extreme limitations on their citizens then it is their right to do so,” said Leitzell. “They will lose the progressives and attract only one group of people to fill that void.” However, he continued, “The domestic partner registration isn’t about being gay, bi or straight or about young and old. It is about doing what is right because it is the right thing to do.”

Making Dayton welcoming is now in the forefront of its political and cultural view. The domestic partnership ordinance is a fantastic way for our city to show the world we are concerned with our citizens and our voices are being heard. To the best of its ability, the City of Dayton has taken the concerns of its residents, heard their voices and acted. The mission was a success and couples, regardless of sexual orientation, now can have a relationship acknowledged by law.

“[Citizens of Dayton] feel welcomed and that the city cares about them and that we’re listening to their issues,” said Whaley. “This isn’t something that’s taking anyone’s rights away, it’s a value that all of us hold. The commission disagrees on a lot of things but we all agree on being welcoming.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Emma Jarman at EmmaJarman@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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