The story that Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist told on the dais that day — the one with him rushing to the hospital in his pajamas — sounded a little suspicious to some.
Could this be Crist's attempt to muddle the hotly controversial item — whether to set up a registry so unmarried people, gay or straight, could designate their partners to make decisions in times of medical emergency or death — before them? Was he trying to water down the important vote at hand?
The County Commission was poised at that September meeting to maybe, just maybe, shed its longtime reputation of being less than evenhanded on issues involving gay citizens. Again they were considering an attempt to establish a domestic partner registry to erase any question about whom someone would want at their bedside and as their voice in times of crisis.
That got Crist, one of four no-votes to kill the proposal last time, talking about his own family crisis.
His 93-year-old father had ended up in a Pinellas County emergency room in the wee hours (hence Crist's pajamas). Though Crist arrived with documents showing his legal right to act on his father's behalf, he said, hospital staff wouldn't let him because no lawyers were there to review his papers.
So whatever the commission decided that day, Crist said, "My dad and I shouldn't be left out of that … this really needs to be bigger than just one small segment of our community." He suggested expanding such rights to everyone, with a big hear-hear from Commissioner Sandy Murman, another previous no-vote. Then the board unanimously agreed to move forward on a registry.
Now, if you are the cynical sort, you might think this could give a conservative politician cover: Hey, it's not really a gay issue I'm voting yes on here, see?
And in the end — who cares?
Turns out that what the Hillsborough County Commission will consider passing at their meeting today — and what would be a big step for this board — will indeed be way more inclusive than originally proposed.
Unmarried couples, both gay and straight, would get the right to make those decisions for each other. (Hospital workers will tell you of patients denied the comfort of whom they want there simply because they weren't married.)
The proposal now would also allow anyone to pick someone who is not his or her domestic partner — a relative, a trusted friend — to be notified in emergencies, and make health care and funeral decisions, among other things.
"I think actually the addition of what we're doing here is going to be really beneficial," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who proposed the registry this time. "The domestic partnership registry is not being diluted, not going away — we're just adding an additional option."
Crist, who heard suspicions about his proposal, says there's "no angle, no hidden agenda, no ticking time bomb … it just makes sense." On this, maybe the board can agree and pass it this time, no matter whom it helps. Inclusiveness was always the point.
To view the proposed ordinance, go to tbtim.es/94e, call up the Oct. 15 agenda and click on item D-1.