At the age of 25, I awoke in a hospital bed after spending several hours of my previous evening in the emergency room. I didn’t know why I was there. I just knew I had arrived at the hospital the night before with an incapacitating headache accompanied with nausea and fatigue.
When I awoke in my room, the first face I saw was that of my partner. We didn’t have any documentation giving him permission to be there and we were unable to be legally joined in any state. Fortunately, the hospital staff understood that we were a couple and gave him access to me even before I was diagnosed with viral meningitis several days later.
I was never forcefully separated from my partner for longer than the overnight stays in the hospital. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to know that he was out of the loop when it came to my medical condition or that my doctors refused to get his input on my care. I was incredibly lucky, and I realize that.
But luck doesn’t happen very often for thousands of unmarried couples across the state, thanks to patient privacy laws that prevent access to loved ones in times of emergency.
But things are starting to change faster than you might think.
A new trend sweeping through Central Florida protects same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike. Local governments are implementing Domestic Partnership Registries at an impressive rate.
Orlando wasn’t the first city to embrace a DPR, but the initiative of its city commission late last year has sprouted infectious movements in surrounding counties and cities most recently in the City of Tampa to the west and Volusia County to the east.
Other nearby communities St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Gulfport and Orange County are working toward such ordinances, and it’s awe-inspiring.
It shows just how far Florida has come in a few short years.
Like so many in the LGBT community, I watched results roll in the night of the 2008 Presidential election with mixed feelings of surprise and disappointment when I realized Amendment 2 was going to pass with more than 60% of the vote.
I just knew that an amendment to the state constitution outlawing same-sex marriage or any equivalent thereof would be rejected by at least 41% of the voters in the Sunshine State. Knowing that it would take more than half of the residents of our peninsula to pass the obnoxious amendment, I was confident it would fail and become a milestone in the progress for LGBT equality in Florida.
But that wasn’t the case.
Nearly 63% of the population voted against recognizing committed, same-sex couples as equal to their opposite-sex counterparts. Even though same-sex marriage was already outlawed in our state, the passage of Amendment 2 was a symbolic one, showcasing the narrow-mindedness of our neighbors.
Fortunately, stopping progress is more difficult than many would hope.
Four years after Amendment 2, the domestic partnership trend is in full swing. Cities are letting committed couples choose who can make medical decisions for them and who should be in charge of end-of-life decisions, if tragedy strikes.
The fear that DPRs will lead to marriage equality are unfounded; so much so that any opposition to them is incredibly minimal or as in Tampa’s case non-existent. Granted, local governments are pretty direct when they remind us that DPRs are in no way redefining marriage.
But I can’t help but think it’s a step in the right direction.
This is not a case of separate but equal. The registry is not based on orientation or gender identity. It is based on the commitment between two people and local governments doing what they can to protect their citizens.
No longer do we have to rely on a nurse’s interpretation of a Power of Attorney document or the chances of a homophobic doctor refusing to listen to our significant others. We can finally find some comfort when it comes to a few basic rights concerning our most vulnerable experiences.
And that’s one powerful, symbolic gesture.