Domestic partnership registry a positive step
Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 15, 2012 19:01
At last year's dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama said the late civil rights leader would have recognized many of the challenges that our nation faces today. And though some issues do echo the same struggles, much has changed since King's time. Civil rights campaigns across the nation have been influenced by not only African Americans but women, Hispanics and gays. One of the most recent local battles is the fight for a domestic partner registry in Orange County.
You might have heard that Orlando has recently become the first city in Central Florida to pass and create a domestic partner registry. This passage is greatly credited to the work of advocacy groups like Equality Florida and to the support of public officials like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. On Thursday, Orlando joined seven other Florida municipalities in allowing same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples to register their partnerships with the local government.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, those who record their relationship with the registry pay a $30 fee and are provided with certain legal protections, like having the ability to visit a partner in the hospital or jail, make health-care decisions for an incapacitated partner, plan a partner's funeral and participate in the education of their children. As CNN's Headline News noted, the benefits received from the domestic partnership registry are nowhere near those received from a marriage or a civil union; yet, I would still argue that its passage is a giant step of equality for Central Floridians.
Last Thursday, Orlando signed the first wave of gay couples into the domestic partner registry; City Hall filled with happiness. Now, advocacy groups continue to move forward and are pursuing a countywide domestic partner registry. So the question for us becomes: Should Orange County pass such an ordinance?
It seems that if you ask members of the UCF community, the answer would be yes. UCF is nestled on the east side of Orange County, and as a university we work relentlessly for equality. Last April, our SGA Senate voted to support domestic partnership benefits for UCF faculty and staff. Then in November, our Board of Trustees agreed and approved the creation of a new health insurance benefit plan for our employees' domestic partners.
However, when the Sentinel first asked Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs the same question, she disagreed and told reporters that she was not convinced that a domestic partner registry would be needed. She favored a database over an ordinance, an idea that many disagree with, including Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who explained that if you "don't have an ordinance like we do, it's unenforceable." Sheehan also expressed frustration because the bulk of the work to create a domestic partner registration has already been done by the city; from her perspective, all Orange County needs to do is accept it.
Jacobs' inaction led to a flood of emails from local activists and community members, and on Friday night she announced her support for the creation of a countywide domestic partnership registry. But the fight isn't over yet. Later this month, LGBT advocates will be meeting with Jacobs to discuss the issue and ensure full support from the County Board of Commissioners. If you stand for equality and if you wish to take Orlando's giant step and turn it into Orange County's giant leap, then I urge you to contact our commissioners immediately. This is not just a LGBT issue – this is a civil rights issue. Together we will set a precedent for equality that other counties would no doubt soon follow.