Hillsborough opts for ‘guide to rights’ over domestic partner registry

By : Steve Blanchard
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The chances of the current Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners revisiting a countywide domestic partnership registry seems less likely after the March 20 meeting.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to provide a booklet called “Important Life Decisions,” that contains Florida statutes relating to who can make health care decisions. The move comes two months after the commission voted against exploring the creation of a domestic partnership registry that would grant a handful of rights to unmarried couples – both gay and straight – that many other municipalities have passed within the past year.

“This packet allows a person to designate another person of their choice to make important life decisions in the event it is needed,” Higginbotham said. Higginbotham lead the vote against the registry in January, citing his religious beliefs as a reason why he couldn’t support a registry granting any rights to same-sex couples.

But the packet is not sufficient, according to Michael Long, a resident of Tampa who said that a domestic partner registry would make much more sense, especially for him and his girlfriend, who’s family lives out of the country.

“I’ve looked at the forms … that have been proposed as a replacement for a DPR and, in my opinion, it’s not nearly sufficient enough,” Long told the commission. “For young people, these forms can be very complicated and I wouldn’t be comfortable without a lawyer. In Tampa, the domestic partner registry was very simple. It was very easy to get. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Long went on to talk about the large number of municipalities in the state that have enacted domestic partner ordinances and encouraged the Hillsborough commissioners to reconsider its vote on creating its own registry.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner attempted a motion to continue the discussion on a registry, but he only received support from Republican Mark Sharpe and Democrat Les Miller. All three voted for a domestic partnership registry in January.
Higginbotham’s substitute motion declaring that the only action that would take place would be the production of the booklet of statutes gained the support of Ken Hagan, Sandra Murman and Victor Crist.

Prior to the vote, Nadine Smith of Equality Florida addressed the commission about domestic partner registries and also directly talked about the booklet Higginbotham wants to create.

“I think (the booklet) actually illustrates very clearly why domestic partnership registries are essential,” Smith said. “Even pulling the information that you were able to pull, some of the forms are inaccurate. If they were executed they would not provide the protections you intended.”

Smith went on to share that businesses support domestic partnership registries and that in those communities that have enacted the ordinance, businesses see those municipalities as more attractive.

“It is business leaders standing up and saying we need this in our community, we need it to protect our employees,” Smith explained. “In Orlando where this passed, the hospital said ‘thank you. We’ve wanted a standard. We don’t want to have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis who is a partner and who isn’t.’ This gives a very concrete and easy way to make that evaluation.”

Terry Kemple, who has argued against protections for same-sex couples, also spoke to commissioners. He praised Higginbotham for bringing forward a packet that “seems to be a non-divisive way” to provide for rights.

“The proponents of the registry were nearly unanimous in their assertion that the registry was about granting rights to unmarried couples,” Kemple said, referring to the flood of supporters of the registry who spoke at the January meeting. “If that was, in fact, their motivation for lobbying for the registry, then they should be here applauding this agenda item.”

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