GULFPORT — Monday morning, a day after heavy storms forced people to kayak down their block, Jan Lowe and her partner, Denise Lowe, joined two other couples to make history in Pinellas County.
The city of Gulfport's domestic partnership registry went into effect on Monday. The ordinance, approved unanimously in May, made Gulfport the first Pinellas County jurisdiction to create a domestic partner registry for unmarried couples. St. Petersburg and Clearwater have since established similar ordinances.
City Council member Barbara Banno, 41, who proposed the Gulfport ordinance, and her partner, Jeanne Kunkle, 49, were the first to register at a table set up in council chambers.
"It's an overwhelming feeling. It gives me goose bumps and brings tears to my eyes," Banno said afterward.
"Today is the first day that the city of Gulfport recognizes us as a couple. Two days ago, we celebrated our wedding anniversary."
"It's one step closer to equal rights for gays and lesbians," Kunkle said.
"It takes a lot of pressure off as far as hospitals and accidents, so your partner is there."
The ordinance includes rights that 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 and be notified as a family member in an emergency.
"I'm native to Florida and I never thought that I would ever be able to do anything close to publicly and legally recognize my relationship, and so today is emotional," said Jan Lowe, 51, as she waited outside city hall before the doors opened Monday morning.
"We're just excited. It's like a little ray of sunshine for Gulfport," Denise Lowe, 49, said.
"The timing is perfect with the Pride celebration this coming weekend. It's kind of the icing on the cake for the gay and lesbian community."
Leonardo Robledo, 41, and Doug Hudson, 46, met 11 years ago in South Beach. They said they purposely moved to Gulfport for its diversity and openness.
"It's important to live in a city that recognizes our relationship," Robledo said.
There was an air of celebration as the couples filled out paperwork, paid a $25 fee and received certificates establishing their domestic partnership. Gulfport council member Jennifer Salmon, a staunch supporter of the registry, blew bubbles.
Mayor Mike Yakes took time from surveying storm damage to join the celebration.
"We've come of age," he said.
"Everything has a beginning and we're at the beginning of great legislation that supports our democracy."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.