GULFPORT — For City Council member Barbara Banno, the signing of an ordinance creating a domestic partner registry in Gulfport hits close to home.
She and her partner have been together for eight years. Six years ago, they got married in Toronto. Banno said they would have preferred to make their vows in Florida.
But the registry is a step toward more gay rights, Banno said Wednesday morning during the signing at City Hall.
"This is a very special day for me," she said. "Here is to one step closer to human and civil rights in the country."
About 20 residents attended the signing. Several wore white buttons that read, "Support Gulfport's DPR."
"This ordinance just goes to show we have six more rights today," Banno said after the signing.
Among the rights: visiting partners at health care facilities, making funeral arrangements, and being able to be an emergency family contact.
City Council members stood behind Mayor Mike Yakes as he signed the ordinance. When he was done, residents cheered.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to create the registry. It will go into effect in 45 days.
To register, couples will need to fill out an application provided by the city and return it with a $25 fee to City Hall via mail or in person.
Among the residents were Chris Spencer and Steve Merchant, who moved to Gulfport nearly two years ago from Chicago. The couple have been together for eight years.
Spencer and Merchant got married in a park in Iowa overlooking the Mississippi River.
Spencer said the registry addresses some of the troubles he and Merchant have experienced as a gay couple.
Merchant sustained a large brain injury after he was struck by a car in Chicago about three years ago. For three days, he was in a coma. Doctors believed he would die, Merchant said.
Because Spencer was not considered immediate family, he was not allowed to visit Merchant.
"When you're in that situation, it's horrible," Spencer said. "It was anguish."
Spencer was by Merchant's side as he learned to walk and talk again. But traces of the injury remain. Merchant said he still has issues with spelling words and framing thoughts.
On Wednesday, they witnessed the signing together.
"I was pretty confident this City Council was going to pass it," Spencer said. "It's a pretty gay-friendly town."
Merchant said he hopes gay marriage will be legalized throughout the country in about 20 years. "I think it'll pass federally within our lifetime."
Spencer, however, wasn't too sure. "We'll see," he said.