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Council Votes On Domestic Partnership

Update: On a historic 8-1 vote, the Pensacola City Council approves establishment of a domestic partnership registry.

The Pensacola City Council is expected to decide this (Thurs) evening, on creation of a domestic partnership registry for the city. Preliminary approval was given last month and the bill’s second and final reading is just prior to the vote.

Legal decisions and hospital visitation are among the rights currently not afforded to the nearly three thousand unmarried Pensacolians who cohabit. If approved, the registry would extend those and other rights to domestic partners – both gay and straight.

Councilman Larry B. Johnson is the initiative’s sponsor. He says they studied the domestic partnership registry in Orlando as part of their research. At least 14 cities and counties in Florida – covering roughly half of the state’s population – have provisions for domestic partnerships. Pensacola would be the first city west of Tallahassee. Johnson says this is not a ploy to get around the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2008, which outlaws gay marriage in Florida.

One week after the U-S Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, legislation was passed by a Florida Senate subcommittee that would consolidate local ordinances into a statewide registry. The bill stalled in committee.

John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council – a longtime opponent to gay marriage – says the concept of a “domestic partnership” is bad public policy and a legal sham. Other opponents contend that unmarried couples already have existing rights and the legal remedies needed to ensure them.

Sara Latshaw, Northwest Florida’s Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, applauds the Pensacola City Council’s willingness to tackle the issue of domestic partnerships. She told the Pensacola News Journal that “we’re at a tipping point” in how people expect their government to treat people when it comes to protecting their relationships.

She adds that a registry would help qualified couples during some of the worst times of their lives – such as illness or the death of a partner -- through the power of attorney and other rights. On a lighter note, Latshaw says those registered would also be able to take an official role in the lives of their partner’s children, such as picking them up from school and taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

Dave Dunwoody is Assistant News Director at WUWF Public Media. Dave@wuwf.org