Cleveland's newly passed gay domestic partner registry is being challenged by a group of religious leaders who say they will ask voters to decide the issue, reports gay bi-weekly The Gay People's Chronicle.

Before city leaders approved the registry at a Monday December 8 session, members of United Pastors in Mission, a group of mostly black ministers, were hard at work courting key lawmakers to vote against the non-binding measure. Councilman Kevin Conwell said that he received “more than 70 calls [against it] over the weekend.”

All of the seven lawmakers who voted against the measure were black. Ward 1 councilman Terrell Pruitt admitted he was pressured to vote against the registry: “I couldn't risk having the ministers, who don't have all the facts, on the pulpits preaching against me on Sunday.”

Cleveland's domestic partner registry allows gay and straight couples to seek recognition of their union from the city. Ohio passed one of the toughest gay marriage bans in the country four years ago. To ensure that the registry does not run afoul of the state's prohibition it lacks any force of law and guarantees no protections whatsoever. Any benefits given to couples would be strictly voluntary.

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

Some gay activists believe registries can be used as a powerful educational tool.

“It is possible that domestic partnerships, civil unions and other recognition can be used to educate voters about the rights and benefits that have been stripped away from so many people because of those amendments,” Steve Ralls, director of communications for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), told On Top Magazine.

Despite its limited use, opponents of the registry say they cannot abide it.

Headed by president Rev. C. Jay Matthews of the Mount Sinai Baptist Church and director Rev. Marvin McMickle of Antioch Baptist Church, the group has announced they would seek to nullify the registry at the ballot box.

The group has 40 days to organize a referendum that would stop the registry from taking effect. It requires 10,228 signatures (10% of voters) and would trigger a special election that would decide its fate.

A less restrictive path to the ballot box would allow the registry to take effect, but is not subject to the 40-day rule and only requires 5,000 signatures.

Matthews said the group would press ahead with plans to nullify the registry, but did not elaborate on their plans.