While Vice President Joe Biden made news over the weekend by declaring that he is "absolutely comfortable'' with same-sex marriages, that issue is off the table for now in Florida because of a voter-approved ban in the state Constitution. Yet Tampa Bay continues to make progress toward recognizing that unmarried adults who consider their significant others family deserve the same rights as married couples. Pinellas County should follow through on a proposal to create a domestic registry that would give unmarried couples some of the same basic rights that married couples already enjoy.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch has proposed the countywide ordinance, and the county staff is researching the issue. St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Gulfport already are headed toward creating domestic registries, and a one-stop registry that applied countywide would be more practical. With 24 municipalities in Pinellas, couples should not be concerned about moving between local communities that would treat them differently.
The Pinellas registry could be modeled after one already approved by the Tampa City Council. The first of its kind in Tampa Bay, it will give unmarried couples the right to have their partners notified in any emergency. They will be allowed to visit each other in the hospital and make some medical decisions, and they can help raise children in the home. These are the sort of basic rights all committed couples should enjoy, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples. Domestic registries also can be supported regardless of whether someone approves of gay marriage.
Same-sex marriages are legal in six states and the District of Columbia, but they are unrecognized by the federal government and banned in Florida. North Carolina voters on Tuesday considered adding a ban on same sex marriage to their state Constitution. Biden stopped short of saying the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages in an interview Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. But he advanced the national discussion with his personal accounts and his unequivocal personal view: "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.''
It was classic Biden, who has a tendency to veer off script and say what he really thinks. That's a rarity in Washington, and President Barack Obama should be just as candid about his own views regarding same-sex marriage. Just as Biden's personal views have evolved regarding equal rights for all couples, so have the views of voters and public officials throughout the nation and Tampa Bay.
With the state Constitution's ban on gay marriage, the local discussion over basic rights and common decency for all couples has been thoughtful and forward-looking. St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Gulfport should continue to follow Tampa's lead and pursue their own domestic registries. But a countywide registry in Pinellas would be practical and be a significant step forward.