Pinellas County commissioners set a date in mid-January for their vote on whether to establish a countywide domestic partnership registry, one that would stitch together the registries that three cities already have created.
At its Thursday meeting, the board approved Jan. 15 for a public hearing and vote on the matter. A majority of commissioners have declared their support for the registry.
Like the domestic partnership registries in the cities of Gulfport, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, the county law would grant unmarried couples, gay or straight, certain rights that currently are afforded only through marriage.
It would allow unmarried couples to visit each other in hospital emergency rooms, make health care decisions for each other in crises, and be notified in emergencies, just as a family member would be.
Pinellas Clerk of Courts Ken Burke said he expects it will cost about $50 for couples to register, money that will be used to cover the expense of creating and maintaining the registry. That job likely will fall to his staff.
The registry itself would be a public list online of names and addresses, a level of visibility that has some concerned.
"How do we protect someone's privacy if they don't want someone looking into their personal information?" said Commissioner Karen Seel. "What I'm concerned about is if somebody decides they want to target someone."
County attorney Jim Bennett defended the need to make the list easily accessible. Barriers, such as an access code or password, could make it difficult for school and health officials to verify that couples are registered as domestic partners, he said.
If the registry is approved, which is likely, county officials and city clerks will have to decide how to reconcile their registries. In St. Petersburg, 223 couples have paid to become domestic partners. In Gulfport, 38 have done so.
Couples may have to re-register with the county, Burke said.
In that case, Commissioner Norm Roche proposed that couples who have registered already in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or Gulfport, be grandfathered into the county's list.
"I don't want to see folks who've paid $25 to register with the city, pay another $50 to register with the county," he said.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8779.