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Domestic partner registry is a fine way for Hernando County to atone for bigotry

I have a suggestion for how Hernando County can atone for one of the more stunning affronts to civil rights in its history.

It's called a domestic partner registry, a concept that seems to be quickly sweeping through less-bigoted parts of the state.

The Gulfport City Council voted to create such a registry on Tuesday, just as Tampa did in March.

Pinellas, Clearwater and St. Petersburg are considering registries. Orlando, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Key West already have them, according to a story in Wednesday's Times. So do three South Florida counties.

The idea is that non-married couples, gay or straight, can register with a local government as partners. This gives them some standing as a family members, allowing them, for example, increased participation in parent-teacher conferences at schools, to visit partners in hospitals, to be consulted about medical decisions.

Talking to hospitals and school superintendent Byran Blavatt, I'm not sure how much difference a registry would make. Maybe it's partly symbolic.

If so, fine, because it's symbolism on the side of justice, while that other display of prejudice I'm talking about was just the opposite.

Four years ago, Floridians were asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being only between a man and woman — entirely meaningless because gay marriage was already banned by state law.

It won a disappointingly solid majority statewide and a sickening 66 percent of the vote in Hernando.

This ban, of course, isn't enforced by terrorism — lynchings and beatings — as Jim Crow was decades ago in Hernando. But when it comes to civil rights denied, marriage — the ability to start a legally recognized family, the building block of society — is about as basic it gets.

Yet two out of three of us jumped at the chance to tell our gay and lesbian neighbors that they weren't welcome to participate.

And please don't tell me, with all the silly, brutal, widely and even universally ignored rules in the Bible, that adhering to the few passages denouncing homosexuality is anybody's Christian duty.

Of course, my arguments probably won't persuade our current county commissioners. They can look at the 2008 election results and realize that standing up for gay rights isn't going to win votes in Hernando. This is about what should happen not what will happen.

It's also true that domestic partner registries are no substitute for marriage.

That will come, inevitably, as the nation's views, like the president's, continue to evolve. A registry is a stopgap.

Yes, state law allows patients to choose the people that they consider family, for visitation reasons and to make decisions about life and death.

But what if, said Gulfport council member Barbara Banno, a partner is rushed to the hospital before filling out the proper paperwork? What if they are unconscious. What if a doctor, nurse or teachers has a problem consulting with a gay or lesbian partner?

As a lesbian in a committed relationship, Banno knows it happens.

The registry gives people like her a little more power, a little more official recognition, a little more dignity.

And for Hernando?

It gives us a chance to right a wrong.

Domestic partner registry is a fine way for Hernando County to atone for bigotry 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:22pm]
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