Hillsborough County Commissioners officially approve a domestic partner registry

The Hillsborough County Commission today officially passed an enhanced version of a domestic partner registry, capping a year in which the county finally caught up with most other local governments in the Tampa Bay area in addressing issues of concern for the LGBT community. But unlike the commission's votes to repeal a gay pride ban and return sexual orientation to the county's human rights ordinance, this vote brought out a last-gasp effort from the opposition. But the protests were too little and too late. The board voted 7-0 to put the new policy in place. It will go into effect in 90 days. 

The registry would give domestic partners a handful of legal rights concerning hospital visitation, health care decision-making, funeral and burial decisions, visitation in a correctional facility and guardianship of children. Commissioner Victor Crist also added rights for people not in committed relationships. The HELP (Health, Education and Life Planning) initiative would allow citizens of Hillsborough County to elect specific individuals to make decisions for them in case of an emergency.

The opposition at the County Center was organized, although most of those present appeared to be reading from talking points, saying that powers of attorney were superior to any other documents in these situations, and that a DPR wouldn't apply in another county.

"The language is very vague," Michael Fields said of a domestic partner registry. "But it's positively clear when it comes to power of attorney. Everyone understands the power of attorney. Nobody understands a domestic partner registry."

Most opponents refrained from making any provocative comments about the LGBT community, but several critics just couldn't help themselves, like Mike Frank, who said that the board shouldn't support a "hidden agenda." Suzanne Detrick said supporting such a measure was another indication that "this nation is going down very rapidly."

Following all the effusive praise for POA's, Commissioner Beckner asked how many of the speakers had completed such forms. A number of hands rose. He then challenged them to bring those documents up to the dais. "How many of these documents do you have on you today?" When few were forthcoming, he said that was the purpose of a domestic partner registry. "Whether there's an emergency, end of life, that's all available when you have one plastic card," he said, adding that's why a number of hospitals in the area back such a registry. 

He was then one-upped by Commissioner Crist, who unveiled a number of documents he carries with him because his 93-year-old father is often in and out of the hospital these days. He told audience members who spoke admiringly about powers of attorney, "You're absolutely right, they are stronger than any registry." But the problem, he said, is that the hospital staff he encountered when his father was ill told him they couldn't judge those documents, and he had to wait until the morning. "I don't want to have to go through that again," he declared. 

The commission rejected a DPR in January of 2013, but the political landscape was much different last month when Commissioner Kevin Beckner brought the issue back to the table. This time the vote was 7-0 in support on both first and second readings. 

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