Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Activists work to reverse Hillsborough's domestic partner registry vote

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Activists talk strategy on combating BOCC vote on domestic partner registry
  • Chip Weiner
  • Activists talk strategy to combat the Hillsborough County Commission's domestic partner registry vote
Twelve days after the Hillsborough County Commission rejected a proposal for a domestic partner registry, more than 50 activists gathered at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City to plot how they might be able to reverse the vote.

Equality Florida's Nadine Smith said the goal is for Hillsborough County to "stop embarrassing us, and embarrassing itself, and actually catch up with the rest of the region and the rest of the state."

After more than an hour of discussion, various groups assembled to show that a registry would receive support from people and places in the community like businesses, faith-based groups, and USF.

Smith said the four commissioners who opposed the measure made a mistake and are unaware of how popular such registries are. She said her group robo-called thousands of voters in both Victor Crist and Sandy Murman's districts, and more than 80 percent supported a domestic partner registry.

Crist and Murman are two of the four Republicans who voted to oppose the measure.

A year ago, the Tampa City Council became the first local government body to pass a domestic partner registry. Two benefits of a registry include being able to make medical and/or end of life decisions for a partner, and visiting a partner in health care facilities.

City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said the four Republicans who voted against the registry are "out of touch," and that there was a "weird dynamic" that took place when the board debated the issue.

"It's like peer group pressure," she told the audience at the Children's Board. "For some reason the bad pressure worked."

Some of the activists said energies should be directed toward getting the commissioners who voted against the registry out of office. Of those four board members, three of them could be on the ballot in 2014. Victor Crist and Ken Hagen are eligible to run for re-election in their respective seats. Al Higginbotham is term-limited out in his, but has filed paperwork to run for the GOP nomination for the District 7 seat being vacated by a term-limited Mark Sharpe.

Mark Nash, who lost to Higginbotham in his race for county commissioner last November, said if activists want to change the decision-making on the board, it should be about targeting those local lawmakers.

The only openly elected official in Hillsborough politics, County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, was not at the event, but in a statement read by his aide Holly East he said, "This is not an LGBT issue but a human rights issue," adding that the "ideology of a small minority will no longer be allowed to control the destiny of a majority."

As audience members discussed ways to gather community members who support a registry, Smith said no single person or group would get the board to reverse the vote. "The business community isn't going to save us by itself."

Hillsborough County Democratic party LGBT activist Sally Phillips said the relatively fast-paced way Commissioner Sharpe introduced the measure made it tough to rally supporters for the Jan. 24 meeting. Interestingly, Commissioner Crist told CL that the short window of time between the measure's introduction (on a Friday before the MLK Day holiday weekend) and voting time prevented him from becoming fully informed.

Smith said the fight for full equality for the LGBT community in Hillsborough County transcends fighting for a domestic partner registry. She's referring to two other moves by the commission — the 1994 vote to remove gays from being protected by the Board's human rights ordinance, and the infamous 2005 vote to ban gay pride events in the county.

The group said they intend to meet again on Feb. 26, time and date to be announced.

(CL will have more on the political aspects of last month's vote in our issue out on Feb. 7.)

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