CLEARWATER – Unmarried couples in a committed relationship will be able to take care of their loved ones in times of need, thanks to Pinellas County’s new domestic partnership registry.
Commissioners approved an ordinance, 6-1, amending the county’s human rights code Jan. 15. The ordinance creates a domestic partnership registry to which two adults, regardless of sex and with certain limitations, can register to “invest in each other certain basic rights relating to their health and welfare,” according to staff notes.
Basic rights include visiting a domestic partner in health care facilities, participating in discussions relating to health care and acting as a healthcare surrogate. Partners can make funeral and burial decisions, receive notification in the case of an emergency and receive notifications about their partner the same as a family member. They can become a pre-need guardian designate if their partner becomes incapacitated. They also can participate in the education of a partner’s dependent.
Partners must pay $50 to cover the cost of filing and processing the Affidavit of Domestic Partnership, creation of a Certificate of Domestic Partnership and filing for termination. Partners who have already registered with a municipality will receive a credit for payment of those fees.
Amendments to the registry cost $25. Copy charges are $1 a page and $2 a page for certification of copies.
The fees should cover the estimated $11,000 to $15,000 cost to implement and administer the registry. Staff expects to be ready to start the registry within 90 days.
Roche cast the single no vote, saying the registry does nothing for people outside Pinellas County. He advocates the use of a power of attorney. He also said the state should take action, not individual counties and municipalities.
Other commissioners agreed with Roche’s sentiments. Commissioner Karen Seel pointed out that getting power of attorney is not something affordable by all. She asked if people could be told when they registered that rights provided by the ordinance would not be valid outside Pinellas or other counties that had a registry and that a power of attorney would be their best option.
Clerk of the Court Ken Burke said by law his office cannot provide legal advice. He said employees of the Clerk’s Office could provide those registering with an information brochure if one was available. Paul Valenti, director of the county’s Human Rights Office, said a brochure was in the works.
Jan Lowe thanked the commission for setting up a countywide registry. Lowe and her wife were the second couple to register in the city of Gulfport, which was the first municipality in Pinellas to establish a domestic partnership registry. Clearwater and St. Petersburg also have registries.
“We had to leave our beautiful state of Florida to get married in Connecticut,” Lowe said. “We thank you for taking this step.”
George Olds, a resident of Canada who lives in Pinellas during the winter, told a story about being denied access to his husband when he was admitted to St. Petersburg Hospital despite showing hospital officials his marriage license.
Olds, who married his husband 10 years ago in Canada, said creating the registry was a “baby step toward equality.”
“We find it rather weird that people have to pay a fee to be treated as human beings,” Olds added.
Olds’ husband, Ian Taylor, commented that it shouldn’t be necessary to create a special status or rights for domestic partners.
“We’re often accused of demanding something special,” he said. “There’s nothing special about us.”
Joyce Hamilton Henry with the Pinellas County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also thanked commissioners.
“It will make a difference in the lives of so many couples, gay as well as straight and seniors,” she said.
Joe Paige and two others spoke against the registry, saying a legal means existed to guarantee rights for domestic partners. He said there was no need for the ordinance.
“This is a solution looking for a problem,” Paige said.
He called the ordinance “another vehicle for men reluctant to commit.”
“Society was built on a loving relationship between a man and woman,” he said.
“We were elected to serve all of our constituents, regardless of if they are same religion or same sex,” said Commission Chair Ken Welch.
“It’s an equity issue,” said Roche.
He said rights to “take care of each other” should be available whether it is between a gay couple or just good friends.
He said the ordinance had no legal merit.
“The power belongs with the state to form a civil union in the state,” he said.
Roche said the ordinance was nothing more than a political statement.
“It’s more than a political statement,” said Commissioner Charlie Justice. “It’s real progress being made. I’d prefer the legislature take the lead, but I don’t think we want to wait that long.”
Correction: changed "not individual states" to "not individual counties".