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St. Petersburg domestic registry open for business

Robert Poth III, left, and his partner, City Council member Steve Kornell, smile after their relationship is recognized in the registry on Wednesday at St. Petersburg City Hall.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Robert Poth III, left, and his partner, City Council member Steve Kornell, smile after their relationship is recognized in the registry on Wednesday at St. Petersburg City Hall.

ST. PETERSBURG — Amanda Patanow and Lisa Meyers smiled and held hands Wednesday morning while standing near a doorway at City Hall.

As the clock struck 9 a.m., cheers erupted. A city staffer began to call the names of people who signed up for the city's domestic partnership registry.

Patanow, 35, and Meyers, 36, were among the first couples to have their relationship legally recognized by the city. The women, who married three years ago in Massachusetts, can now make life-saving choices for each other.

"We'll now be a part of one household," Patanow said. "It also helps show our 8-year-old daughter that we are a family."

Applause broke out again.

Cameras captured City Council member Steve Kornell, 46, and his partner, Robert Poth III, 28, emerging from an office with a certificate, becoming the first gay couple to have their relationship cemented in the registry.

"Today we have basic rights that we didn't have yesterday," Poth said about their 3-year relationship.

Steven Barefield and his partner of 28 years, Kyu Yamamoto, 53, married earlier this month in New Hampshire. They went to City Hall Wednesday so their relationship also would be recognized in St. Petersburg.

"We don't have to carry around paperwork anymore," said Barefield, 56, a corporate trainer. "It's public record. This has been a long time coming."

The City Council unanimously approved the creation of a domestic partnership registry in June. Enrollment started Wednesday and cost $30.

The registry, modeled after one Tampa approved in March, requires health care facilities to allow any registered domestic partner to visit his or her mate and make care decisions if the partner is incapacitated.

It also allows those partners to direct burials, visit partners at city correctional facilities, participate in the education of their partner's children, to be notified in case of a partner's emergency and to direct their partner's estate during times of duress.

Registries have emerged in Clearwater, Gulfport, Orlando, Gainesville, West Palm Beach, Key West, and Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Following other cities, St. Petersburg is making it clear that domestic partnerships will not be recognized or treated as marriages. In 2008, a wide majority of Florida voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

And that's fine with Kurtis Marsh, 47, and his partner, Sünje Schwartz, 35.

"We really don't want to get married," Marsh said. "We have both been there and done that."

The couple has been together for more than three years and only signed up for the registry so they could make critical decisions for each other if the need arises.

"We can now take care of each other," Schwartz said. "I don't want to end up as a ward of the state."

For some, the registry doesn't go far enough.

As Frank Clemente, 50, and Toby Anderson, 58, stood in a corner, Clemente whispered, "Are you happy?"

Anderson nodded his head.

The men have been engaged for four years and yearn for the day they can legally marry in Florida. Although they could exchange vows in other states, they want to do it in St. Petersburg. They believe same-sex marriages will eventually become legal in the Sunshine State. "This is just the first step," said Clemente, a special events designer. "We definitely want to get married."

To celebrate being registered, the men plan to spend a week at the beach.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

.Fast facts

To register

Partners can register from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at the Clerk's Office on the first floor of City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N. The cost is $30, payable in cash, check or money order. Both parties must be present with photo identification to register. No registrations will take place on Thursdays or Fridays because of council meetings and agenda preparation.

St. Petersburg domestic registry open for business 08/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 10:31pm]
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