TAMPA — As Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed the local law creating the Tampa Bay area's first domestic partnership registry Friday, a clearer picture emerged on how the law will work for unmarried couples.
But for now, don't hurry over to Tampa City Hall.
The city clerk's office has 90 days to establish the forms, procedures and a filing fee for the registry. City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles said there isn't a date set for implementing it, though it might not take the full 90 days. Perhaps sometime in June, she said.
The registry is meant to give registered partners a sense of security at times when they otherwise might be most vulnerable.
It recognizes partners' ability to see each other in the hospital, make health care decisions for a partner who is incapacitated, oversee funeral and burial arrangements for each other, be notified as a family member in an emergency affecting their partner or take part in the education of a partner's child.
"It will give a lot of people in this community some comfort knowing that in very, very critical situations that relationship will be respected," Buckhorn said just before signing the ordinance. "That is only treating people with the dignity that they deserve.
The City Council voted unanimously April 5 to create the registry at the suggestion of council member Yvonne Yolie Capin.
"I look at it as a service to our citizens, nothing more, nothing less, to all our citizens, treating everyone the same," she said.
Once the registry is in place, it won't just be limited to Tampa residents.
Any unmarried couple, straight or gay, can sign up, though both partners must do so in person at the same time.
That includes Tampa residents, people living in unincorporated Hillsborough County, those living outside Hillsborough County, even residents of other states.
For example, an unmarried pair of snowbirds from Michigan could sign up, and their names would be entered in the city's registry, which is a public record.
Tampa's registry will be open to couples who are 18 or older, are not married and not related by blood, who live together and consider each other as immediate family.
When partners come in, they'll have to present a driver's license or other state-issued identification so that their signatures can be notarized.
While the registry is open to anyone, anywhere, the catch is that registration is only applicable inside the city limits, said Assistant City Attorney Kate Taylor.
So it might not be helpful for someone who lives outside Tampa and only seeks health care services outside the city to be registered in the city.
Likewise, while the idea would be for a school inside Tampa to recognize the registry and allow someone to attend a parent-teacher conference concerning the child of a partner, it wouldn't apply at a school in unincorporated Hillsborough, even though both schools are in the same district, Taylor said.
Because the registry affidavit will include a declaration of a health care surrogate and allow partners to make funeral arrangements, it may supersede some provisions of other legal designations or living wills that were executed earlier.
Likewise, any living will or other designation executed after the partners sign the registry affidavit would supersede the affidavit.
"That may be something that they'd want to seek independent legal counsel on to see what the boundaries of their living will are and legally how that would all play out," Taylor said.
Tampa is the first city in the area to create such a registry, but it may not be the last. St. Petersburg and Gulfport officials have begun looking into the idea. Statewide, Orlando, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Key West, as well as the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, already have similar laws.
"This goes right to heart of who we are as a community and how we treat people," Buckhorn said. "For me, this is a great chance to level the playing field for a lot of folks who are in relationships that may not look like my marriage, but should be treated accordingly."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.