Cleveland city leaders offered a warm welcome to gay and lesbian couples arriving at City Hall to take advantage of a new domestic partner registry taking effect Thursday.

Gay advocates celebrated with a rally on the steps of City Hall. Six council members attended the rally, including Council Members Jay Westbrook, Joe Cimperman and Joe Santiago.

Registering with the city is mostly a symbolic act. Registered couples receive no guaranteed benefits or protections; any benefits gained would be strictly voluntary.

The registry's shortcomings, however, appeared to be lost on the steady stream of couples lining up for it. Sixty-four couples, mostly gay or lesbian, had paid the $55 registration fee by 2PM, openly gay Councilman Santiago told On Top Magazine.

Opposition to the registry appears to have diminished since ministers called for its repeal in January. A group of mostly black ministers lead by Rev. C. Jay Matthews failed in an effort to stop the registry from taking effect. And while the group has vowed to place a referendum on the November ballot, it appears they missed a March deadline.

Inside City Hall, Matthews led a revival-like prayer service, but an anticipated anti-gay demonstration failed to materialize.

Today Cleveland has joined with a movement,” said rally organizer Sue Doerfer, executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Cleveland. “Equality is spreading much more quickly than the swine flu.”

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.