Domestic partner registry may be coming soon to Tampa

02/28/12 Janelle Irwin
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update: the domestic partnership registry passed Tampa City Council on 1st reading 15 March 2012.

Tampa city council member Yvonne Yolie Capin has proposed an ordinance that would give unmarried couples some similar rights to those who are married. It would apply to both heterosexual couples as well as those in same-sex relationships. Under the proposal, couples registered as domestic partners would be able to make decisions on behalf of a sick partner as well as provide certain protections in the event of a death. Capin said some of those guarantees could be secured without the ordinance, but that could be a lot more complicated.

“To do what we have just spoken here would take more than ten documents and hundreds if not thousands of dollars and there are many citizens that absolutely could not afford that.”

In addition to decision-making, the ordinance would also allow domestic partners to be notified in an emergency. That’s a right not currently granted to non-married couples. Nadine Smith, executive director for Equality Florida, said Tampa’s initiative protects couples.

“The vast majority of Floridians like the vast majority of Americans actually believe people ought to be able to access these essential protections. People shouldn’t have to worry will I be able to be at the person’s side who I love when they need me the most.”

Even though such an initiative is often seen as a win for the LGBT community, Capin said this ordinance was meant to help all adults.

“We have about 90% of the people who cohabitate are heterosexual and 10% are homosexual. So, it is for all. There’s no special group. There’s no special treatment. It is open to all. You have to be 18 and competent to enter into a contract.”

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith said the ordinance isn’t a ground-breaking move, but it represents the changes that are continuing in the LGBT fight for equal protection under the law.

“Florida is changing. The country is changing. Attitudes that people held just a few years ago have shifted dramatically. And the clear path is towards equality. The question is: How quickly do we get there?”

And in this case getting there may not take too long. Council member Capin said she expects a first reading of the ordinance in just a few weeks and anticipates widespread support. Right now, specifics are being hashed out by city staff. But Capin said the process used for a similar ordinance in Orlando is being used as a model. Their process calls for a one page application and a fifty dollar fee.

“Our legal department is looking at the, of course the legal verbiage that will go into the ordinance, but the administration will be looking at how to administer it. It may or may not be through the clerk’s office.”

There are few limitations to the model being used. Applicants must be 18, unwed and can’t be related to their co-applicant. The initiative was unanimously supported by the five council members attending a workshop last week. Capin didn’t plan to present the proposed domestic partnership registry until later, but she bumped up plans because it was the due date of her first grandson.

“And I thought to myself, what a better day to bring this forth than on this day and what a welcome to this world for my grandson of fairness, equality and diversity, the world I’d like him, and the city I’d like him to grow up in.”

Nadine Smith said Capin’s reasons for starting this process are another example of how public perception of lifestyles has changed.

“And that change is reflected in progress that we’re seeing in the Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell, Maryland becoming the 8th state to make marriage legal. Where ever you look at places where the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community has been denied equal protection, equal access; things are changing.”

The first reading of the ordinance before the full City Council is expected on March 15. Capin said she has seen nothing but support so far.

“I feel strongly that it will pass and that legal will come forth on the 15th with the ordinance. The mayor, from his comments, is in support. So, I don’t see any road blocks.”

We tried to reach Mayor Bob Buckhorn but he was unavailable. If passed, the law would also benefit many elderly couples who chose not to marry for financial reasons, such as losing retirement benefits from a deceased spouse. However, according to Capin’s office, only residents of Tampa can apply for the registry and it can only be enforced within city limits.

Tampa City Council proposed domestic partnership ordinance

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