CUYAHOGA FALLS: The City Council will seek a legal opinion as to whether Cuyahoga Falls is required to — or even allowed to — give family membership rates at the Natatorium to gay couples legally married in other states.
The matter surfaced recently when two Akron men, married three months ago in Washington, D.C., asked to convert their individual memberships at the city-owned physical fitness center to a family membership.
After Natatorium employees turned them down, Shane and Coty May set up a petition on the website Change.org seeking support. More than 700 people from around the country have signed it, with each signature automatically sending every City Council member an email.
After Tuesday’s council meeting, members talked of being inundated with emails, and Council President Mark Ihasz said while he is undecided on the issue, he “just wants to get the emails to stop.”
He said he will ask Law Director Paul Janis to advise as to the city’s obligation.
“We may not have the authority to act on this at all,” said Diana Colavecchio, a council member and attorney. “However, if council does have the authority to set the policy and define what qualifies for a ‘family rate’ at the Natatorium, I would support expanding the definition of ‘family’ to include gay couples married in other states.”
She noted that the Nat’s rules are set by an independent park board and not the City Council. According to the Natatorium website, a single nonresident membership is $495 a year; adding a spouse costs $730 annually.
After a quick Beacon Journal survey of other area city-operated fitness centers, Cuyahoga Falls might be the exception.
At the Medina Community Recreation Center, a former “married couple” membership was changed to “two person, same household” a long time ago, recreation supervisor Kurt Gehring said.
The Twinsburg Fitness Center allows domestic partners, including married gay couples, to purchase family memberships.
Also, same sex couples in the same household can buy a family membership at any Akron Area YMCA facility.
Shane and Coty May could not be reached Wednesday, but they explained their situation in their online plea for support at http://tinyurl.com/7erdfua.
Shane May said he is the caregiver for his spouse, an injured Iraq war veteran, and that Coty May does “water therapy as well as light lifting at our local gym to help him get stronger and keep the pain levels down.”
The two married in October and sought to take advantage of the family plan at the Natatorium when “the woman behind the desk” informed the couple that the marriage “was not considered real, and she could not update the systems to reflect us as married,” Shane May wrote.
“When I began to ask why, she informed me that the Natatorium has rules which state that they follow Ohio regulations and until the State of Ohio recognizes gay marriage then my marriage license means nothing,” he said.
“I am asking you to sign this petition to show the City of Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium that equality should be given to every citizen,” Shane May wrote, adding: “A family comes in all shapes and sizes and the Natatorium, Parks and Recreations, and City Council should not be allowed to discriminate against our family.”
Mayor Don Robart said he doesn’t think it is likely that the city would be allowed to recognize the Mays’ marriage because Ohio’s legislature has specifically banned gay marriage.
He said he also doesn’t want to set a precedent for changing guidelines “every time something pops up. You can’t change the rules for every scenario.” He added that the Natatorium already has more than 100 different rate plans for its 10,000 members.
The city has turned down family membership requests by heterosexual domestic partners with children, Robart added.
“They say, it’s like we’re married, and I say, no you’re not,” he said.
The city does have an Equal Employment Opportunity statement that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when it comes to hiring, but Robart said he doesn’t see a conflict between that position and the Natatorium rate rules.
“It’s apples and oranges,” he said.
Robart added that for every person who signed the Mays’ petition, there is a resident opposed to extending the family rate to gay couples, and “as soon as we make an exception for the gays, we will get a taxpayer lawsuit saying why are you giving them a break when their marriage is illegal in Ohio?”
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.