GULFPORT — In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the city of Gulfport made history by becoming the first Pinellas County jurisdiction to create a domestic partner registry for unmarried couples.
Mayor Mike Yakes will sign the new ordinance in council chambers at 9 a.m. today.
"This is about people, people's right of choice,'' he said of the ordinance, which goes into effect in 45 days.
The votes were cast in front of an overflow crowd, with many supporters wearing buttons promoting the registry.
In the opening invocation, City Council member Barbara Banno invoked the spirit of Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to hold office.
"This is very, very overwhelming for me," Banno said. "It allows me and my partner to have rights in Florida. This is a step in the right direction.''
Banno and several speakers made references to St. Petersburg, which is preparing a similar ordinance, and to Clearwater and Pinellas County, which are considering domestic partner registries.
Tampa approved a registry in March.
But Denise Lowe, who married her partner, Jan Lowe, in Connecticut almost two years ago, issued a challenge.
Gulfport's action was "a very important ripple in the ocean of equality" she said. "Make no mistake, we must continue from here."
"This is not a replacement for marriage equality,'' Jan Lowe added. "However, it is a step in the right direction. … We're fired up and we're ready to go."
The Gulfport ordinance has a provision to address the possibility that Pinellas County establishes a domestic partnership registry "that is substantially similar" to Gulfport's.
Should that occur, Gulfport's city clerk will collaborate with the county to determine whether a joint system would work.
The registry is similar to those in the cities of Orlando, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Key West, and the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
It will be open to couples who are 18 or older, are not married and not related by blood, and who live together and consider each other as immediate family.
It will allow partners to:
• Visit each other in health care facilities.
• Make medical decisions for a partner who is incapacitated.
• Make funeral arrangements for a partner who dies.
• Be notified as a family member in an emergency.
• Participate in the education of a dependent of a domestic partner.
• Be designated as a pre-need guardian for medical purposes
Couples will have to pay a $25 fee and register with the city clerk.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.
CORRECTION: The invocation for Gulfport City Council's May 15 meeting was given by Council Member Barbara Banno. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online named another council member.