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Tampa domestic partnership registry launches Monday

TAMPA — Expect a crowd.

Tampa opens the books today on its new domestic partnership registry, and already people are jostling to be at the head of that line.

"I will be first," said City Council member Lisa Montelione, who plans to come in first thing with her partner, Josh Geary.

Ed Lally of Equality Florida said Friday he'd gotten RSVPs from 30 couples who plan to register, and the city's website for the registry had recorded 1,100 hits last week.

"I'm sure it will be very festive," said City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles, who expects to have up to three registration stations on the first floor of Old City Hall. "We want to say that Tampa is a welcoming community that treats everybody equally, with dignity and respect, and that we're open for business."

Tampa's registry will be open to couples who are 18 or older, unmarried and not related by blood, who live together and consider each other as immediate family. City officials say registered domestic partners each will have rights historically recognized for immediate relatives: being notified that a partner has been in an accident, visiting each other in the hospital, making medical decisions for a partner who cannot, and making funeral arrangements for each other.

Lally, 59, plans to register — first, if possible — with Phil Dinkins, his partner of 34 years.

"It's an added layer of protection for us to have this recorded with the city," said Lally, who married Dinkins in Canada in 2003. "It's also about the city recognizing our loving and committed relationship. It's on record. If there's an emergency, I want Phil to be there at my side."

While the registry will be open to gay and straight couples, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he can see many people registering for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.

"If we have elderly parents, and they're widows or widowers, and they get involved with somebody in a relationship, there may be financial reasons why they don't want to get married, so this is important," Buckhorn said.

Couples do not have to be residents of Tampa — indeed, they could even live in another county or state — to register here.

That said, the registry only applies inside Tampa city limits, so it wouldn't necessarily make sense for someone who lives and gets health care outside the city to register here. In the same way, the intent is for schools inside Tampa to recognize the registry so that both partners could attend parent-teacher conferences, but it wouldn't apply at a school in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Since April, when Tampa became the first bay area city to create a registry, Gulfport, St. Petersburg and Clearwater have all followed suit. That's a change for Equality Florida, which has worked for 15 years on initiatives to benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.

"It's kind of a fun time, because the cities and counties are calling us now and asking for the language," said Lally, the organization's Tampa development officer. "It's pretty exciting, but it was a lot of hard work."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay or (813) 226-3403.