Tampa council eyes broader domestic partnership recognition
TAMPA - Two months after granting limited legal protections to unmarried couples, Tampa City Council is weighing whether to extend the same protections to couples from elsewhere in Florida. Council members have asked the city's legal department to spell out options for offering equal protections to couples with domestic partnerships registered in other cities and counties. They'll hear proposals at Thursday morning's council meeting. "We want to give the broadest possible protection we can," Councilman Harry Cohen said this week. The discussion comes not long after Tampa opened its own domestic partnership registry June 28. Since that day, the city has registered 230 couples, 90 percent of whom are of the same sex.The registry guarantees gay and straight unmarried couples a package of protections married couples get automatically. The list includes the right to hospital visitations, life or death decision-making and access to shared children. When Tampa created the registry this spring, it became the first city on Florida's Gulf coast to do so. Gulfport and St. Petersburg soon followed. Elsewhere in Florida, domestic partnership registries exist in Gainesville, Orlando, Orange County and a number of South Florida cities and counties. Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin, who proposed creating a registry this year, said she would like to see a measure that helps create a network of domestic partnerships across the state – and possibly across state lines. Doing so could help lure the types of young, creative people to Tampa who might otherwise choose creative meccas like Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., Capin said. "It's something that people look at when they decide where they want to work or live," said Kate Oakley, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. The group advocates on behalf of gay rights at the federal, state and local level. Recognizing other governments' domestic partnerships is a common element of each registry, Oakley said. It can make it a simpler for couples looking to move among cities if they don't have to register again, she said. Similarly, a marriage certificate from one community is recognized in others. It's unclear, though, whether the measure under consideration in Tampa can provide protections to same-sex couples whose legal bond is a marriage certificate from one of the dozen states that issue them, Oakley said. " 'Questionable' is the right word," Oakley said. Florida has a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual relationships. A married same-sex couple moving to Tampa could register as partners and keep some of the protections they enjoyed in their previous home. But those protections – including hospital visitation in case of injury – aren't guaranteed for same-sex married couples visiting the area, Oakley said.
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