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A city progresses, but can a county?

Every now and then, government does good. There, I said it.

Tampa just voted in an ordinance that says if you are hurt, sick or dying, your significant other can be informed, at your side and empowered to make decisions. And here's the remarkable part: This means unmarried couples, gay and straight.

The city's domestic partner registry will soon spell out these rights for hospitals, funeral homes and other places that might not automatically accept unmarried partners as family, or when there is a conflict within a family about who should and shouldn't be there. It happens.

And wonder of wonders, as this played out before the City Council, there were no promises of hellfire and damnation, no Them vs. Us. It was uncontroversial, unopposed and unanimous — though not unemotional, when you count the citizens who sounded genuinely proud.

There's more: St. Petersburg is moving similarly forward. Gulfport is talking about it. It's already a done deal in Orlando, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Key West, as well as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

And in Hillsborough, the county in which Tampa sits?

(Sound of screeching brakes.)

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner says that he's reviewing what Tampa just accomplished and that it's an important issue the county should address. Do not expect the same smooth sailing in a place where a ban on any county display of gay pride, even some books set up at a local library, still stands.

Now here's an interesting twist when it comes to the city and the county. Talk about inclusive: Unmarried couples living outside the Tampa city limits in Hillsborough County can soon also register at City Hall for those same worst-case protections.

This means someone from, say, Sun City Center would be covered if he ended up at Tampa General Hospital, which routinely flies in critically sick and injured people from all over. Snowbirds here from Michigan? Pinellas people who drive to Tampa to work or play? All are welcome — though the ordinance can govern only health care facilities and businesses within the city limits.

It works like this: Once the registry is in place (this summer, if not sooner), people can spell out that they want their partners to be notified in a medical emergency, to be allowed to visit them in a hospital or nursing home, to be authorized to make funeral arrangements, and to be involved in the education of a partner's child. (Imagine, being shut out of your significant other's life at a time like that.)

And here's a bonus: People will be able to electronically access their own registry documents any time on an iPad, computer or phone, since most of us don't carry our important documents in our back pockets in case of emergency. Great idea.

But if you hoped to make history as the first couple registered in Tampa in the name of progress, you might be out of luck. Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said she and her fiance who have been together 10 years want that spot, and she probably works closer to the city clerk's office than you do.

So here's the news: The other day, government did something sensible. A city took a small, important step that looks a lot like progress. And a place that's accepting is that much more attractive as somewhere to live and work.

Bet that could work out in the county, too.

A city progresses, but can a county? 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:28pm]

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