PORTLAND (AP) – Eleven married couples have gone to court to challenge Portland’s domestic partnership ordinance, saying it conflicts with a state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Plaintiffs in the Cumberland County Superior Court lawsuit include members of area churches who were recruited by the Center for Marriage Law in Washington, D.C.

The center’s director, Vincent McCarthy, told reporters Tuesday that by extending legal rights and benefits of marriage to domestic partners, the ordinance recognizes same-sex domestic partners as married.

“The state has authority over municipal law,” McCarthy said. “Whenever you have a conflict between the two of them, the state trumps local law.”

Portland officials vowed to defend the ordinance in court and said they expect to prevail.

Mayor James Cloutier and City Attorney Gary Wood said the ordinance does not offer domestic partners “anywhere near the litany of rights” afforded married couples, and therefore poses no conflict with state law.

The city passed the partnership ordinance in May 2001, and began registering domestic partners at City Hall the following month.

The ordinance states that agencies that receive city funding must provide health insurance to the domestic partners of their employees, if their health insurance companies offer such coverage.

Registered domestic partners – who must fill out a form at City Hall verifying they are engaged in a relationship “of mutual support, caring and commitment” and that they “intend to remain in such a relationship in the immediate future” – are also able to access academic information and pick up children at city-funded schools and child care agencies.

The ordinance has attracted other criticism from religious organizations.

In February, Catholic Charities of Maine filed suit against the city, accusing it of religious discrimination for withholding $175,000 in community development funds from the organization because it does not provide domestic partner benefits.

The suit has not been resolved. Earlier, the Salvation Army chose to give up city grant money rather than comply with the ordinance.

AP-ES-08-13-03 0216EDT

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