Cleveland may soon extend health-care benefits to city employees’ unmarried domestic partners. Councilman Joe Cimperman says he’s going to introduce an ordinance to do so this month, possibly Monday.
“We’re a human-rights city,” Cimperman says. “This continues that legacy.”
It'd be another step in City Hall’s drive to promote Cleveland as gay-friendly. City council approved a registry for domestic partners in 2008, banned discrimination against the transgendered in 2009, and worked successfully to attract the 2014 Gay Games. The gay magazine The Advocate named Cleveland the 12th Gayest City in America this February. “This is just one more aspect of Cleveland showing its best,” Cimperman says.
The legislation isn’t just for gays, he notes. City employees who choose not to marry for practical reasons, such as child custody arrangements, could also share their health insurance with their partners.
That’s one of the downtown councilman’s selling points as he works to avoid a repeat of the divisive fight over the partner registry. It passed 13-7 after attracting the opposition of some prominent black ministers.
This time, at the urging of council president Martin Sweeney, the benefits ordinance is being drafted in consultation with a committee that includes two local ministers, including C. Jay Matthews of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, who opposed the registry.
“Part of the reason the council president asked for ministers to be involved is, last time they weren’t, and they felt really left out,” Cimperman says. Matthews “hasn’t seen the final draft,” he adds, “but he’s been at meetings. His response was, it’s the right thing to do.”
The ordinance would make Cleveland the third Ohio city to offer domestic-partner benefits, along with Cleveland Heights and Columbus.
“Some people might vote against it on financial reasons,” Cimperman says. But he argues that cities from Cleveland Heights to Chicago have found partner benefits aren’t a drain on finances. “It’s a plus in recruiting people to work there.”
Cimperman also wants to make the city’s anti-discrimination laws enforceable by civil lawsuits. The 1989 ordinances made discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations a criminal offense — an attempt to be tough on bigots that can actually make the law harder to enforce, Cimperman says. “Are you going to call 9-1-1 because someone at a restaurant said the N-word and they’re not going to serve you?”
Allowing anti-discrimination lawsuits in Cleveland will especially benefit gays, since state and federal civil rights laws do not protect them.
Making Cleveland gay-friendly is a natural evolution of the city’s legacy of strong support for civil rights, Cimperman argues. “We’re lucky to have people who were champions in many different areas of human rights: civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, labor rights. I really think it’s one more aspect of our DNA."