Cleveland City Council approved a domestic partner registry for gay and straight couples at its Monday session.

Passage of the registry was difficult in a state where voters passed one of the toughest gay marriage bans in the country four years ago.

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 is 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.

Opposition to the registry came mostly from social conservatives. Several council members said they were being pressured by church groups to oppose the legislation. Councilman Kevin Conwell said that he received “more than 70 calls over the weekend.”

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.

The legislation, introduced by Councilman Joe Cimperman, passed with a vote of 13-7. Voting against the legislation were Democrats Phyllis Cleveland, Roosevelt Coats, Kenneth Johnson, Sabra Pierce Scott, Terrell Pruitt, Zack Reed and TJ Dow.

Mayor Frank Jackson has said he would sign the registry into law.