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Tampa City Council Approves Domestic Partner Registry

by Conswella Bennett
Contributor
Saturday Apr 7, 2012
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It was a banner day for equality in Tampa on Thursday when the City Council voted 7-0 to create a domestic partner registry for unmarried partners.

In what is being called a historic move for the area, Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith said that Tampa City Hall was filled with people, most of whom were LGBT, celebrating the registry’s creation. She said there was no opposition to the registry that will allow couples-gay or straight-to register as domestic partners with the city clerk’s office.

The city of Tampa began the process to implement it a little less than a month ago.

"Tampa’s been a forward-thinking place for quite some time," said Smith.

She said the city recognized providing protections to its LGBT residents was the right thing to do.

"Economically it is the smart thing to do, and the right thing to do for people," added Smith.

On the same day that the Tampa City Council created their city’s registry; St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell introduced a similar proposal during a City Council meeting.

Tampa and St. Petersburg officials based their proposals on one that went into effect in Orlando in January. It allows any unmarried couple who lives, works or visits the city to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, be notified in a life threatening emergency, visit a partner in a health care facility and participate in the education of a partner’s children.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer noted on his city’s website that his administration is the first in Central Florida to establish a domestic partnership registry and "to take the important step of giving same-sex couples some of the same, basic rights that other couples in committed relationships have."

The St. Petersburg City Council voted 8-0 to send the proposed registry to the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee. While Kornell told EDGE that he unsure when the committee will take up the proposal, he said he expects it will happen soon. After that, hearings will be held.

In Tampa, couples can register as domestic partners after they pay a small fee. They will receive a certificate of registry and will have the right to make decisions that only married heterosexual couples had been able to do.

Kornell, who is openly gay, said that the creation of Tampa’s registry had nothing to do with his decision to introduce his proposal in St. Petersburg.

"No one had to tell me to stand up, I’ve been fighting for gay rights for years," he said.

Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Key West along with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties are among the other Florida jurisdictions that have created domestic partner registries for unmarried couples. The city of Tampa, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the St. Petersburg Police Department already offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees.

Smith said the key factor that prompted the creation of Tampa’s registry were the number of LGBT people who came forward to tell their stories. She added the involvement of grassroots organizations that reached out to their elected officials and encouraged them to approve the proposal had a significant impact.

As for the St. Petersburg proposal, Kornell said it has been well-received.

"I think we’ve come a long way," he said, noting he has not received one negative e-mail about the proposed registry. "When I ran for office I expected to have some negativity because I’m gay, but nothing other than the typical campaign stuff. St. Pete is very open and embracing of people. We try to treat people fair."

Tampa’s registry will take effect in 90 days.

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