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Giving life partners rights? It's a matter of basic fairness

What a concept — letting people decide for themselves who they want seeing to them in a crisis, next to their hospital beds, getting the call if something terrible happens.

Imagine. Not the government. Not the self-appointed alleged moral leaders. You, me, him, deciding for ourselves.

Well, duh, you're saying. Hasn't this always been so? Hasn't my significant other always been the one allowed to be there for me? The one making decisions if I can't? To take that terrible call in the middle of the night?

Sure, it's pretty much a given, as long as you're a man married to a woman or vice versa.

But how about a couple living together, whether they are straight or gay, which by the way is an increasing and significant element of the American population?

Sorry, but the matter of the rights of your partner in times of crisis can be much less clear.

In a move that sounds suspiciously progressive, the Tampa City Council recently voted on an idea so basic and fair it boggles the brain. With two council members absent, they agreed 5-0 to explore establishing a registry to let unmarried couples make clear their wishes in worst case scenarios.

The city is using as its model a recently established registry in Orlando to give domestic partners basic rights down to making funeral arrangements should one of them die, or taking a role in the education of a partner's child.

And while I'm not in love with the word "registry" — it has the creepy sound of a tool for making sure we know just where They are, whichever They is being demonized at the moment — it is a movement pure at heart.

How could anyone argue against allowing each of us to decide these personal, private and difficult matters ourselves?

Oh, wait. Because when it comes to personal and private — think abortion rights — this is what we do.

So I was surprised to hear from the office of City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who proposed the registry, that reaction so far has been largely positive. Emails said things like "proud of my city." One came from a man whose marriage is not recognized here, another about a couple who chose not to marry because of their "current circumstances."

And not a peep from our self-appointed I-Know-What's-Best-For-Everyone crusader David Caton, a former porn addict. (Hey, don't blame me for bringing it up — the man once wrote a book about it.)

This is a surprise, because Caton has in the past been Johnny On The Spot when there was any chance we might be pushing forward in treating gay people pretty much like anyone else.

Then again, Caton and his ilk have been awfully busy of late demonizing Muslims, and really busy cowing Hillsborough County school officials into embarrassing themselves over the nonissue of a Muslim speaker at a high school.

For the record, council member Capin has said she doesn't see the registry as a step toward legalizing same-sex marriage, and the Orlando ordinance is careful to say it's not about "treating a domestic partnership as a marriage."

Okay, but it's a step, a proposal both sensible and sensitive.

Hopefully, a steady-as-she-goes City Council will focus on one thing when they take it up at their March 15 meeting: Not politics, not the same anti-gay chest-pounding we have heard before, just basic fairness that says we each get to decide for ourselves whom we want with us for the worst of it.

Giving life partners rights? It's a matter of basic fairness 03/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 7:23pm]
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