Gay rights advocates in Cleveland, Ohio are holding their collective breath as the city takes up the idea of a domestic partner registry for gay and straight couples.

But passage is anything but assured in Ohio, where voters passed one of the toughest gay marriage bans in the country four years ago.

Leaders say Cleveland's registry is being modeled after similar legislation approved by voters in Cleveland Heights, a small suburb east of Cleveland, in 2003, which has already withstood a legal challenge.

The non-binding registry lacks the serious muscle of marriage or even civil unions; any benefits extended to couples would be strictly voluntary. But gay rights groups contend that in a state like Ohio, where city leaders have been hobbled by a broad constitutional amendment that forbids extending any marriage-like benefits to gay couples, it might be a good compromise.

Sue Doerfer, executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland, told Cleveland's Plain Dealer that the registry gives couples a sense of legitimacy when seeking out rights and benefits.

“It sends out a message that Cleveland is welcome to them,” Doerfer said.

“I think the chances of it passing are very good,” Cleveland Councilman Joe Santiago told On Top Magazine in a telephone conversation from Orlando, Florida, where he was attending the twice-yearly National League of Cities.

Openly gay Santiago, who has played an important role in crafting the legislation, said that he expects lead sponsor Councilman Joe Cimperman to introduce the legislation next week.

City leaders say the registry is an attempt to bolster Cleveland's image as a gay-friendly town as it bids to host the 2014 Gay Games, an international gay and lesbian sporting event. Other American cities included in the running are Boston and Miami. Chicago, which hosted the event in 2006, estimates it attracted 140,000 visitors to its Lake Michigan shores with an overall economic impact of $50-to-$80 million. Cologne, Germany has been selected to host the 2010 games.

Mayor Frank Jackson, who has endorsed efforts to bring the Gay Games to Cleveland, said he “supports the concept.”