Couples take the plunge as St. Pete opens its domestic partnership registry

08/01/12 Samuel Johnson
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Today St. Pete residents were able to register as domestic partners for the first time. A narrow foyer in City Hall was teeming with excited couples this morning. The domestic partnership registry provides unmarried couples some of the same legal rights as married couples.

People who sign up for the registry only get a fraction of rights of married couples, including the right to be notified if a partner has a medical emergency. Although the new partnership registry is open to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, 4 of the first 5 couples were same-sex couples. Lisa Meyers and Amanda Patanow were wanted to register their partnership for pragmatic as well as romantic reasons.

"Well we’re legally married in Boston. We got married in front of our friends and family here in Florida but it wasn’t legally recognized in our community so we just wanted to have that recognition here where we live and where our important people are. And to be able to carry out the responsibilities of being in a committed relationship and caring for one another.”

The Williams Institute of the UCLA Law School found that nearly 14 out of every 1000 households in St. Pete are same-sex couples. That’s near the top of mid-sized cities in the country. Chris Steinocher, President of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, said that advertizing St Pete as city of equality will draw business talent to the area.

“This is a big piece of creating a competitive advantage. We are in a race for talent. St.Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area is desperately seeking talent in every one of or professions from IT to art. Talent goes where they’re most appreciated. This is one of things where if we treat everybody fairly, we will get our fair share of good talent. So from a business perspective, every wonderful community that’s competing on a global scale has these things in place already. Now we’re there, no we can say that we got a piece of it.”

City Council member Steve Kornell voted for the registry when it was approved in June. Kornell and his partner Bobby Poth were one of the first couples to register.

“You know, 20 years ago or 25 years ago a lot of gay and lesbian people felt like they had to hide and they were ashamed of themselves or just were told to hide basically and were afraid to be honest and open about who they are. As that has changed, people have changed and it’s just accelerated. The more people get to know somebody who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, the less afraid they are.”

State Representative Rick Kriseman is happy the city is taking a step to improve rights for its LGBT citizens but he said the work isn’t over.

"I know a lot of couple who have been together 20, 30 years longer than straight couples I know that have been married and remarried and remarried again. There’s no reason for us not to have gay marriage, I mean there really is no justification for it. So I hope this is a step in that direction. Unfortunately with the current makeup o our legislature and our governor I don’t see it happening on the state level. I think it’s going to have to happen federally.”

Some other rights the domestic partnership registry provides are visitation of a partner in a correctional facility, engaging in the education of a partner’s children, and the right to plan burials. Registration is open Monday through Wednesday during business hours at City Hall."

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