Commissioners did find it necessary to explicitly spell out, however, that "nothing in this Ordinance shall be construed as recognizing or treating a domestic partnership as a marriage."
Although such partnerships have been crafted in other cities and states for years, it was the passage of a registry by the city of Orlando that led local governments in the Bay area to follow suit, the first being Tampa in May of 2012.
Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin introduced a proposal for a registry nearly a year ago, saying that she had read about Orlando's ordinance. After Tampa, St. Pete quickly followed suit, followed by Largo and Gulfport.
The lone holdout on the Pinellas board on Tuesday was Norm Roche, who supported the concept but thought it was more style than substance. He said that any two people, including siblings or neighbors, should qualify under the ordinance, and that it shouldn't be required that the partners live together. He also said that it should include a durable power of attorney, otherwise it was just "feel-good stuff."
Commissioner Chair Ken Welch disagreed, saying the new policy was "not just a political statement," but that there were very meaningful benefits in the ordinance.
Although Roche couldn't get a second board member to agree that a power of attorney should be included in the ordinance, Commissioner Karen Seel said that couples who register at the county center should be encouraged to get a POA — though she added they wouldn't be required to do so, since that's "a legal expense."
Commissioners Charlie Justice and Susan Latvala lamented the fact that domestic partner registries are not uniform throughout the state, but said it could be a long time if they waited for legislators in Tallahassee to pass such a law. They also seemed amused that some critics consider the vote to be a "gimmick" to gain political support, considering that a stance in favor of gay rights was never considered popular until recently.
Latvala said that when she served on the Pinellas School Board and voted to extend equal rights to lesbians and gays in the ’90s, "We were threatened with out lives. Literally."
The cost for a registration fee will be $50. Both partners need to be at least 18, unmarried and living together. No date was given out when the registries will be open for couples, but the ordinance says it must begin within 90 days.