Domestic partnership registry one step closer to passing in Tampa

03/15/12 Janelle Irwin
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Tampa City Council members are considering a domestic partnership registry ordinance that would give unmarried couples some of the same protections as those that are married. The measure easily passed its first reading this morning during a packed meeting.

Without a domestic partnership registry, people who are in committed relationships could be denied information about a sick partner. But an ordinance proposed by council member Yvonne Capin would change that. R. Zekefread said that during a recent hospitalization, staff gave his partner the run-around.

“I am particularly touched by it because I was in a horrific car accident and when it came down to Nick coming down to the hospital and getting – they called him to come down, he went down. When he got there, there was confusion as to what they could tell him, what they couldn’t tell him. He knew I was in bad shape and that was it.”

That’s one reason council members unanimously supported the proposal. Mike Suarez said it’s likely to get backlash from opponents who see it as a step towards gay marriage. He denied that claim, but added the measure is important to protect any couple – same or opposite gendered – in the event of an accident.

“She was a member of the – she was a gay officer – and had a domestic partnership at that time. I believe they were together for 10 years at the time of her death. And there was quite a fight between the pension board and her about what was available as a domestic partner.”

But Suarez’s fear, so far, comes without warrant. According to council members, of the hundreds of emails each has received about this initiative, not one has been in opposition. Council member Mary Mulhern echoed that.

“For something that could have been controversial, this was not controversial. It is really heartening for me and I think for all of us in this room to realize that we didn’t have one, not one negative comment about this. We didn’t get emails; we didn’t have people calling us. This community realizes that this is the right thing to do.”

Even though they each wear wedding rings and had a wedding, Ed Lally and his spouse are not recognized in Florida as a married couple. Lally was one of 21 members of the public to speak in favor of the registry. None spoke against.

“Phil and I went to Canada in 2006 to get married because we couldn’t get married anywhere in this country. As you know, our country, our state, our city, doesn’t recognize our union and because of that we do not have the 1100 protections and benefits that are allowed to the married people in this country.”

According to the proposal, any adult in a committed relationship could apply for the registry. To do so, the measure’s sponsor, Yvonne Capin, expects there to be a one to two page application and a fee around $50. That’s based on a comparable ordinance recently adopted in Orlando. Many of the protections it would provide are available to couples now could cost thousands of dollars. Mariruth Kennedy, president of the Tampa Bay Business Guild said a domestic partnership registry could also save businesses time and money.

“Domestic partnership registries also make it easier for businesses to do business. A domestic partnership registry cuts down on paperwork and time for the employer. Many large companies offer domestic partnership benefits, but in order for the employee to prove that they are, in fact, in a committed relationship there can be forms, interviews, discussions, affidavits and more. With a DP registry, one form will suffice and business just got easier in Tampa.”

Stephanie Nichols is a transgender woman who has lost touch with most of her immediate family. Those who she is still in contact with, live far away. She said a domestic partnership registry is needed for people in similar situations who couldn’t rely on medical decisions from family members.

“Unfortunately, she now rests in a box, buried in the cold earth, her final wishes unfulfilled. Her family didn’t get it right. My fear of Alzheimer’s is it is hereditary and I don’t want to be buried in a box either. This legislation is important so we can communicate our wishes through our partners who may know us better than our families.”

The measure is also supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. An attorney for that group, John Dingfelder, said Tampa joining the handful of other Florida municipalities who have adopted similar ordinances is a leap for equality.

“As human beings, we seem to like labels. Are you gay? Are you straight? Are you young? Are you old? But, at the end of the day what are we? We’re human beings and we all deserve equal human rights. And that’s what the ACLU is committed towards. We all know probably very, very well, young, old, gay, straight folks who are in committed, long-term relationships. Regardless of what labels we put on them, each one of those folks and each one of those partners deserves the same type of human rights and human dignity.”

The domestic partnership issue will go before council for a second reading on April 5. If passed, an ordinance could go into effect as early as this summer. Council members Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione were absent from today’s vote.

WMNF News video by Adam Scull:

Tampa City Council proposed domestic partnership ordinance

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