Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sue Carlton: Can Hillsborough evolve on basic rights?

Could it actually happen?

Could the Hillsborough County Commission finally shuck its image as a stodgy, backwards, backwoods board, resistant to evolving when it comes to the rights of citizens straight or gay?

Or will the board back down?

Tomorrow, commissioners take up what ought to be a no-brainer of a measure that passed easy-breezy in the city of Tampa, in assorted cities and counties and most recently in Pinellas. They will consider starting a domestic partner registry to give unmarried couples some of the same basic rights as married ones in certain critical moments.

Couples who sign up for such registries make it official that they want their significant others to be informed if they're in a medical emergency, to be allowed to visit and make decisions at the hospital, and to make funeral arrangements, among other things.

You might think your right to have the person you chose as your partner involved would be a given with or without a marriage certificate, but this is not necessarily so. Some 368 unmarried couples determined to make their wishes perfectly clear on this have already signed up in Tampa since the registry opened last summer.

Now for the politics: The fact that this benefits straight couples living together could be enough to give wary commissioners cover to vote for it. And the fact that it protects gay couples could have some of them on the run.

A little Hillsborough history: In 2005, during a dustup over a gay literature display at a public library, then-Commissioner Ronda Storms got the board to pass a ban on any county recognition or display of gay pride. The lone commissioner to vote no was Kathy Castor, who is now in Congress.

Storms is long gone from the commission (and just lost her latest bid for public office.) Other like-minded board members are gone, too: Brian Blair, beaten in a race against, interestingly, the first openly gay commissioner, and Jim Norman, out of politics after a scandal over a vacation home bankrolled by a political benefactor.

Mark Sharpe, who voted for that gay pride ban, is now the guy who put the domestic partner registry on this week's agenda. Evolving, it's called. Sharpe wants it unanimous — "7-0 is the way to go," he says.

Does it have a prayer?

Because you can count on the usual characters from the We Know Better Than You What God Wants Coalition, or whatever they're calling themselves these days, to be on hand hollering about "special rights" that aren't special at all, just basic and decent and equally applied to couples gay or straight.

Do those voices still matter? Well, it is instructive to note supporters of the registry waited until after the November election to bring it up in the interest of avoiding political pressure.

Two Democrats on the board, Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, have indicated their support. Republicans Ken Hagan, Al Higginbotham, Victor Crist and Sandy Murman will be worth watching.

Because it would take just one of them to step up and say: You know what? Enough already. Time to move forward in the name of fairness and letting people decide for themselves who should be by their side if the worst happens.

And how evolved that would be.

Sue Carlton: Can Hillsborough evolve on basic rights? 01/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]