Could Florida Pass a Statewide Domestic Partner Bill This Year?

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While several other states are grappling with the idea of same-sex marriage, down here in Florida, we still have problems passing a statewide domestic partnership bill. One would think it wouldn't be quite so controversial considering more than a third of Floridians already live in counties that have established local domestic partnership registries, and polls show a vast majority of Floridians favor the most basic form of recognition for same-sex couples.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Broward County, has introduced SB 0196. The bill would call for a statewide domestic partnership registry that would grant participants basic rights such as hospital visitation, owning property together, arranging funerals, and the right to be notified of emergencies. It's only a small fraction of the rights afforded to married couples, but supporters view it as a step in the right direction.

Sobel's bill had originally been a bit more wide-ranging, but she pulled it after it appeared it would not get much Republican support and rewrote it to mirror many of the domestic partnership laws that exist in several Florida municipalities. Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Volusia, Pinellas, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties have such registries in place. Cities such as Tampa and Gainesville have also created their own registries. In all, about 6.7 million Floridians already live in municipalities where domestic partnership is legal.

According to a poll conducted last summer, 72 percent of Floridians support some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples, while only 26 opposed any such recognition.

Of course, the bill wouldn't affect only same-sex couples. Several straight widows and widowers take advantage of domestic partnership laws when they meet a new partner but don't wish to remarry. That's especially important in a retirement-heavy state like Florida.

Sobel's bill will be heard by the Children, Families and Elder Committee today and will have four more committee stops before hitting the full senate floor. A companion bill in the house has not yet been brought up at committee.

Given the facts that so many Floridians live in municipalities that already have domestic partnership benefits, and even greater number support the idea, you would think this would be a legislative slam dunk, but politics in Florida and legislation involving same-sex couples are hardly ever that easy.

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