CUYAHOGA FALLS: It looks like it will be another month before the Cuyahoga Falls park board might again take up the issue of whether to offer married gym memberships to gay couples.
More than 70 people attended last week’s Falls Park and Recreation Board meeting anticipating a possible resolution to the debate, but the panel did not take up the issue.
The issue has been brewing since January when a gay couple from Akron requested and were denied a spousal discount to the city-run Natatorium in the Falls.
Shane and Coty May were married in Washington, D.C., in October, and decided to ask the city for a break in their membership rate.
Ohio does not recognize gay marriage, and Falls officials say the Natatorium policy follows Ohio law.
The Mays’ plight spurred an Internet petition that garnered thousands of signatures.
In March, the park board voted 3-2 against a motion by chairman Tim Gorbach to change the spousal rate immediately to include all “legally married or domestic partners in a civil union as recognized by any U.S. jurisdiction.” Gorbach’s proposal also called for a June 1 deadline for the implementation of a new “household rate” that would cover myriad traditional and nontraditional families.
Aside from the societal debate, Falls officials say changes to the rate structure could cost the Natatorium $49,000 in lost revenue.
Councilman Terry Mader and Broadman Baptist Church Pastor Chris McCombs attended last week’s parks board meeting to again express their opposition to any rate changes.
“The Natatorium is family supporting. The city is family oriented,” Mader said. “This is an attempt by a very small, loud group to redefine and tear down the family. This has nothing to do with money. It’s a move on the Biblical and traditional definition of what a family is.”
Mader said that until Ohio passes a constitutional amendment to recognize gay marriage, the board needs to stand by its existing policy.
Summit County Councilwoman Sandra Kurt said the discussion is about public policy and should not be swayed by religion.
“If we pay taxes and obey the laws, we are supposed to be seen as citizens, no matter what religion we practice or who we love,” she said.
Falls Councilwoman Diana Colavecchio had threatened to seek taking authority away from the parks board to set the rates.
Last week, Colavecchio apologized to the board and said it was not a simple matter of just revamping the rate schedule.
“I said I would take up this issue, but I ended up on a completely different journey,” she said.
Colavecchio and Falls council members Carrie Hummel-Snyder and Mader spent six hours over two nights going over about 100 available membership rates with Parks and Recreation Superintendent Bill Lohan and Assistant Superintendent Ed Stewart.
While there are some inconsistencies in the existing rates, Colavecchio said, “It didn’t make sense to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Colavecchio said the rate structure at Waterworks Family Aquatic Center has a different definition of a family. There a family is a “mother, father and any children under 21 residing at the same address.” A two-person pass is $105.
At the Natatorium, a family is defined as “a legally married couple who have guardianship over one or more children.”
The Waterworks rate structure was written in 1964 when stay-at-home mothers took their children to swim at the park, Lohan said.
The Natatorium spousal rate was introduced just after Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“We have two competing policies in the same department,” Colavecchio said.
She proposed that the board change the Natatorium structure to mirror the one at Waterworks.
McCombs said that by speaking out, he is not trying to impose “values on anyone.”
“We’re simply defending the ones that already exist,” he said. “This is not right for our culture or our community.”
Gorbach has urged fellow parks board members to meet with Lohan to become more familiar with the rate structures before the board meets on May 10.
He said the current discussion isn’t about changing the definition of marriage, “but to remove marriage all together, similar to the structure at Waterworks.”
“We’re going to come to a conclusion in May,” Gorbach said.
“Not everyone is going to be happy.”