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Ohio's straight ally: David Caldwell has been knocking on doors to tell voters that legalized gay relationships are no threat to his marriage.

David Caldwell is no ordinary gay rights leader. But it's not his relentless pursuit of equality or his self-deprecating humor that sets him apart. It's the fact that the 33-year-old software developer is a happily married straight man.

Caldwell led a successful campaign in 2003 to create a domestic-partnership registry in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, making it the first such voter-initiated registry in the nation. And now he is defending it against a proposed state constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of gay relationships set to appear on the November ballot.

As lead organizer for the gay rights group Heights Families for Equality, Caldwell has in recent months taken his activism to a national level. In March he traveled to Boston with a team. of volunteers to help fight a proposed Massachusetts ban on same-sex marriage, and in June he went to Atlanta to train gay activists on grassroots organizing against another proposed ban.

Caldwell and his team are now back in Ohio going door-to-door to talk to voters about why an amendment is wrong. The Advocate spoke with Caldwell about his work.

What got you started in gay rights?

In 2002 our city council passed a law extending benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. I read a news story saying there was a petition drive to repeal it. I was angry. Even though I hadn't done much politically, I felt very strongly I ought to get involved.

You seem remarkably passionate about it.

My mom's best friend growing up was the boy next door, and he's gay. I grew up knowing gay people. I always felt gay and lesbian people should be treated like everybody else. I also feel strongly about making sure America remains a secular nation, that we don't allow one narrow religious tradition to impose its values on society.

So what's it like being a straight ally?

I can speak directly to why gay marriage does not undermine marriage, because my marriage is not threatened. I humanize the issue for people who think gay people are like aliens. But I can't speak from personal experience about being gay.

Do people assume you're gay?

Sometimes. Once in my home a volunteer assumed my wife was my house cleaner. He asked me if she was "reasonable," meaning her rates [laughs]. Is she reasonable? Well, not always! If I'm acting in a public role, I usually don't mention that I'm not gay. When straight people in gay organizations keep saying they're straight, it seems like they're afraid people might think they're gay. That's not the message I want to send.

How does your activism work?

Most people don't think they can affect politics except by voting. We convinced them that they could. [During the Cleveland Heights campaign] we thought we could do something unprecedented that would make the world a better place, and that was a very empowering feeling. Most of the activities we engaged in were pretty ordinary, like going door-to-door and asking people to vote.

Does the proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage threaten the Cleveland Heights registry?

The amendment contains language that is clearly aimed at us. It says the state "and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage." It's not clear that tiffs would actually remove domestic-partner registries, but there's no other reason to put that language in there.

So how do you feel about the future of your movement?

I've gone from a computer programmer with no friends [laughs] to a nationally recognized gay rights leader who is straight. It's a chance to do the work we did in Cleveland Heights on a bigger scale, and I feel great about that.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Behind the Headlines
Author:Letellier, Patrick
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 12, 2004
Previous Article:A long road to recognition.
Next Article:Relationships weigh on youth.

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