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Orange County's Domestic Partner Registry Provides Model for Proposed State Law

December 20, 2013 | WMFE - A bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including Orlando Democratic Representative Linda Stewart, is trying to revisit a failed legislative effort from last year to create a uniform domestic partnership registry across Florida. It grants some rights currently enjoyed by married couples to unmarried couples, both gay and straight.

Hollywood Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel has filed the bill six times in the past. It got its first committee hearing last year and narrowly passed 5-4, but several lawmakers raised issues about the bill’s constitutionality.

This year’s bill from Sobel and Orlando Democratic Representative Linda Stewart is a bit different, and Stewart says it should not be controversial. She says she crafted the House version based on Orange County’s ordinance creating a registry for couples who live together – an ordinance she helped create when she was a county commissioner. 

“So, the idea is to provide an avenue for people in relationships to go to the hospital and be admitted to the room when their partner is sick, or if there’s an accident that they be allowed to be notified in the next of kin, that they be allowed to be involved in funeral arrangements, if that were the wishes,” says Stewart. 

At least 16 cities and counties around the state have established registries, representing about half the state’s population. Pensacola is the latest to create one. What Stewart says Floridians need now is consistency.

“What happens, though, is [if] you leave Orange County and you go to a county that doesn’t have a domestic partnership registry, you lose your right,” Stewart says. “So, if someone is put in the hospital from a car accident, you may not be able allowed to go in and be with that person in care in another county, even though you’re registered in Orange County. So, it doesn’t matter where you’re driving, where you’re traveling, where you live, it’s going to be consistent.”

The bill would also allow for joint property rights, guarantee prison visitation and provide that unmarried partners could make decisions about each other’s medical care, if necessary. 

Its other House sponsor is Daytona Beach Republican Representative Dave Hood.

 

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