Domestic partnership bill passes committee, though victory likely symbolic

Published April 2, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Supporters of a bill that would create a statewide domestic partnership registry won what is likely to be a symbolic victory Monday when a Senate committee narrowly passed a bill that would grant same-sex couples in Florida specific rights.

The Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee voted 5-4, with Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, joining Democrats, to approve the creation of the registry.

The registry would give unmarried partners visitation rights in hospitals and correctional facilities, allow them to make funeral arrangements for one another, be an emergency contact and provide some health care and real estate protections.

Supporters of the registry heralded Monday's vote as historic.

"We're thrilled," said Mallory Wells, public policy director for Equality Florida. "This is the first time the Florida Legislature has ever voted to recognize same-sex relationships — and provide protections for committed couples all over the state of Florida who cannot or choose not to be married. It certainly is a historic day for us."

The measure, however, has almost no chance of passing this year in the Legislature.

Republicans, who dominate both the House and Senate, have shown little interest in the proposal, and it was only heard Monday because sponsor Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairs the committee that was considering it.

The bill, SB 196, must still pass four Senate committees — all controlled by Republicans — before it could make it before the full Senate for consideration. The House version of the bill, HB 259, has not been scheduled for a hearing in any committee.

"We look forward to making this a reality eventually in the state of Florida because it's really about fundamental fairness," Sobel said.

The bill, which could apply to any unmarried couple, has been opposed by conservatives who say it is a first step toward gay marriage.

"Where same sex marriage has been advanced, it relies on these type of statutes as precedent," said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council.

Voters amended Florida's Constitution in 2008 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia recognize either domestic partnerships or civil unions, or allow same-sex marriage.