Largo leaders talk about domestic partner registry — and will talk more

LARGO — City commissioners have various opinions about a proposed domestic partnership registry that would extend certain rights to unmarried couples.

Mayor Pat Gerard and Commissioner Michael Smith support it. Commissioner Woody Brown doesn't want unmarried heterosexual couples to get the rights of married couples. Commissioner Curtis Holmes is worried the registry could expose Largo to a lawsuit.

The commissioners agree on one thing, though: They want to know what City Attorney Alan Zimmet thinks.

That was the conclusion of a lengthy discussion at Tuesday's work session. In July, Smith proposed a registry for Largo. He mentioned recently created registries in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater that give domestic partners rights normally associated with married couples, like hospital visitation and health care decision-making powers. Domestic partners in those cities can also participate in the education of the partner's child and are notified in cases of emergency.

Largo staff brought copies of the registry ordinances from Tampa and St. Petersburg to Tuesday's work session. They both require domestic partners to be at least 18 years old, not be related by blood, live together and consider each other members of their immediate families.

Holmes doubted that a city government can force hospitals to recognize domestic partners and worried a registry could get Largo sued if a domestic partner and a patient's family disagree.

"If we have a domestic partner go to Largo Medical Center and tell them to pull the plug (on that person's partner), I guarantee you we'll have a lawsuit," he said.

Holmes and other commissioners asked Zimmet to write an opinion on the proposed registry. Zimmet said later in the week he did not know when he would get an opinion to commissioners.

Smith, who is gay, emphasized again Tuesday that he doesn't see this as a gay or straight issue. He said he thinks it's important for Largo to keep up with neighboring cities that have already created registries.

To Gerard, though, this definitely was a gay issue.

"If my partner was a woman, I wouldn't be able to get married, and I sure as hell would want these rights," she said. "It's about … people being able to love who they want. This is pretty basic stuff here."

Brown said he didn't feel it was the city's role to create a registry, and he preferred to wait and see if the Pinellas County Commission approved one. If Largo does have a registry, though, Brown only wants it open to homosexuals. If heterosexual couples want the rights of married couples, Brown said, they should get married.

"They consciously made a decision not to be married, and we're affording them rights that are for marriage without the commitment of marriage, and I have a problem with that," he said.

The staff will bring the registry back to the commission, with Zimmet's opinion, at a future meeting. There will probably be at least one more discussion before the commission votes on an ordinance.

Also Tuesday, the commission discussed the possibility of extending health care benefits to city staffers who register as domestic partners. Again, some commissioners didn't like the idea of giving benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Human Resources Director Susan Sinz didn't have an estimate for commissioners of what the benefit expansion could cost Largo. Like the registry, the benefit expansion will also come back for another discussion.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Largo leaders talk about domestic partner registry — and will talk more 09/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 4:31am]

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