Tribune editorial: Approve domestic registry in Hillsborough
There will likely be a lot of debate Thursday when the Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to hear a proposal to establish a domestic partner registry that would give unmarried couples legal standing similar to married couples. Under the registry, unmarried couples would be empowered to make medical decisions for a distressed partner, make funeral arrangements, participate in education decisions for their children and such. It is controversial because it would provide these rights to same-sex couples. Many religious groups see this as an attack on marriage and their religious tenets. Such anxiety is understandable.But the change is grounded in the conservative belief that individuals should be able to make decisions for themselves. Many adults, including many elderly couples, today are in committed relationships but choose not to get married. It is appropriate for government to acknowledge their choices — and needs. Private enterprise is similarly responding to a changing workforce. According to benefit consulting firm Mercer, 52 percent of all employers offer health care benefits to domestic partners. "Employers started doing this because they felt they needed to be competitive in the labor market, just like with other benefits," Paul Fronstin of Employee Benefit Research Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., told the PBS NewsHour last year. More and more local officials now see domestic partner registries as a way to not only help citizens but to ensure their communities appeal to businesses that value diversity. Tampa adopted a domestic registry last year without controversy. Pinellas County adopted such a measure last week. Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who is introducing the measure, points out that the proposal does not mention gender. It applies to adults, who should be entitled to make such decisions for themselves. As he wrote to The Tampa Tribune, "This is America — we are all different and have a right to privacy. This affords all adults that right and does not require government to pick and choose who can visit who in the hospital or any number of other mundane activities." Details will need time for review, but commissioners should start the process for a registry. Approving the registry would not represent an approval of a certain lifestyle. It simply acknowledges, as mainstream business has, the choices many Americans make today and their right to make them. Whether one approves of those personal choices should be irrelevant.