Cleveland begins offering gay and lesbian couples the option of registering as domestic partners today.

In a state that has banned marriage and civil unions for gay couples, the moment is historic; only two other cities in Ohio – Cleveland Heights and Toledo – offer such registries.

Gay rights advocates plan to celebrate with a rally on the steps of City Hall.

But the celebration will be tempered by the fact that Cleveland's registry is hollow: it offers no benefits whatsoever. Ohio passed one of the toughest gay marriage bans in the country five 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. Additionally, opponents have declared war on the legislation.

Inside City Hall, Rev. C. Jay Matthews, who heads a group of mostly black ministers opposed to the registry, has been invited to lead a prayer group.

The ministers are pushing for repeal of the registry. An attempt to stop the registry from taking effect failed after the group fell short of collecting the 11,000 signatures needed before the January 5 deadline. After the prayer service they plan to march to Public Square to demonstrate against the registry.

The ministers say they oppose the registry on religious grounds. “That lifestyle goes against God,” Matthews told a Plain Dealer reporter.