LARGO – Largo City Commissioners debated Sept. 11 whether they should establish a domestic partnership registry before informally agreeing to ask staff to provide more information on the issue, such as its legal ramifications.
Through the registry, all hospitals in the city would be required to honor domestic partnership documentation. Domestic partners will have rights in making health care, burial and other decisions.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes said under Florida law, no common law marriage, often referred to as an informal marriage, entered into after Jan. 1, 1968, is valid.
He said his point under state law is that the city has no authority to enforce the domestic partnership rights. He asked that a letter from the city attorney be obtained, saying the actions proposed under the registry are legal.
“We are going to pass this ordinance, saying we are going to grant you certain rights, do we even have the power to do that?” Holmes said. “Personally, after reading Florida statutes I don’t think we do because this is not domestic partnership, this is common law.”
Commissioner Michael Smith had asked that the work session be held on the registry.
“We are one of the three largest cities in Pinellas County. Two of the other cities have done this,” he said, adding that the city is trying to stay competitive with others in attracting businesses.
He said that hospitals have said they will accept the domestic partnership registry, and the issue is not about “trying to redefine marriage.”
Commissioner Woody Brown said one of his hesitations is why “we as a municipality should create a domestic registry.”
“It doesn’t mean we are for or against any relationship, but I don’t think that’s really our role,” he said.
If the reason that it is being discussed is whether the city supports a registry, he said, let the county take action first and then the City Commission can pass a resolution in support of it.
“Why duplicate it? Why have our own when the county is considering it in October?” he said.
Brown also said that same sex marriages are illegal under state law, and those couples should have domestic partnership rights.
However, he said heterosexual couples can get married, and the city is looking at providing them with certain rights.
“We are affording them rights that are rights of marriage without the commitment of marriage, and I have a problem with that,” Brown said. “I think that people make clear and conscious decisions to not be married, depending on their situation.”
People can designate health care surrogates, “which covers 90 percent of what we are trying to do here, and it’s absolutely free.”
Commissioner Robert Murray said he had a “very open mind going into this” and noted that Brown had some compelling points.
“But I’m looking at it in a different way. I’m looking at it as a sense of people supporting people,” he said. “I think it comes down to the fundamental concern that people have for each other. I think that is an important part of the community to have that.”
Mayor Pat Gerard said she was in favor of the city “looking into it, passing something that is legal.”
She said there are some people in this community that live together that can’t get married.
“I’ve been married for 28 years. Great. But if my partner was a woman, I wouldn’t be able to get married, and I sure as hell would want these rights,” Gerard said. “And not all of these rights are covered in a health care surrogate.”
Gerard said she has friends who have children together and “only one of them because they gave birth to this child can go to school and have any kind of input in their child’s education.”
“I think you’re right. I think it’s about people supporting each other and people being able to love who they want,” Gerard said.
She said she is not willing to wait until county officials take action because they have already delayed it once.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier asked staff how many people have signed up to be on the domestic partners registry in Tampa, which has had the registry for a longest time among area cities.
“I’m just curious how many people have knocked on the door and quickly have signed up,” she said.
Smith said the last time he checked 240 people had qualified to be on Tampa’s registry.
He said the city is looking at raising the millage rate and during these rough economic times it’s “a smack in the face” to senior citizens to insist that they get married and lose “that income from that deceased spouse.”
Under the proposal, the city clerk’s office would administer the domestic partner registry. To register as domestic partners under other cities’ ordinances, the two individuals must each be at least 18 years old, not be married under state law, not related by blood and live in the same residence, among other requirements.
On a related issue, city commissioners asked for more information on providing health and dental benefits for domestic partners of city employees.