Meanwhile, advocates for Equality Florida are working to overturn the Hillsborough County Commission's 4-3 rejection of a domestic partner registry that was pushed by Mark Shape back in January.
Equality Florida reached out to Al Higginbotham — one of the "no" votes — but it doesn't look like he's willing to reverse his decision. The Eastern Hillsborough board member said he's working on a packet of information about protections that already exist in current Florida law for unmarried couples.
"My quest over the last several weeks has not been directed at changing existing laws and precedent," he said in a statement released last week.
Last week at the Hillsborough County Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Allies (GLBTA) monthly meeting, Democrat Cathy James said she wants to see a domestic partnership registry approved, a measure that would provide domestic partner benefits for Hillsborough County employees, and a human rights ordinance that includes the LGBT community. She asked Democratic Commissioner Les Miller (who voted "yes" on the registry) if it makes sense to lobby the Republican legislators who voted "no," when energy could go toward supporting a Democrat — who would fight for the issues at hand — who could replace one of the commissioners next year. (Higginbotham is term-limited in his District 4 seat and will run for the GOP nomination countywide in District 7, while Victor Crist and Ken Hagan are running for re-election.)
James and others at the meeting said they understood that Equality Florida is appealing to Higginbotham to change his vote, but they are surprised the organization isn't contacting Commission Chair Ken Hagan. Miller said he's found Hagan to be more amenable to some of the proposed items. But Miller didn't say the same for Crist, his former colleague in the Legislature.
"I can't count on Victor because who knows where Victor is coming from," Miller said.
Miller said he thought the pro-domestic partner registry bloc had the votes back in January, and that Crist would have supported it.
"But Victor Crist has become ultraconservative," Miller said, mentioning the rumor that Ronda Storms will challenge Crist in 2014.
Miller added that he was "a little shocked" at Crist's behavior at the January meeting, when he badgered a representative from Florida Blue who was advocating for a domestic partnership registry. Crist randomly attacked the representative, bringing up an old problem he had with Florida Blue that revolved around a mental health parity bill that took place in the Legislature years ago.
"Victor, you're so off base on this argument," Miller said, recounting to the GLBTA audience what he was thinking as Crist confronted the Florida Blue representative.
CL reached out to Equality Florida's executive director Nadine Smith, who told us in an email that her organization will continue to contact "all commissioners to pass domestic partnership recognition in Hillsborough and we are confident that it will pass when it comes up again."
On Friday, Commissioner Sharpe called the rejection "the last vestige of just fear and a little bit of ignorance." He emphasized that he did not want to be "disrespectful" to his colleagues who opposed the measure, but the registry is "a no brainer."
Higginbotham brought up his Christian faith when he voted against the registry, and Miller appeared to address that — without bringing up Higginbotham's name — when he said, "Come on, my Christian belief? I'm a black Baptist deacon, okay?"
Last week, Sharpe also brought up his religion background, and said it has nothing to do with being fair to people who under current Florida and Hillsborough County law can't make health care decisions about their loved ones.
"I'm a social conservative," he said. "I go to a very conservative Baptist church, and I've got my views and such, but one of the things I do believe in as an elected official is I've gotta represent 1.2 million people," he said at the Tiger Bay meeting. "If you can serve in the military, if you can serve on the police force, if you can serve in the sheriff's department, if you put your life on the line for us, and you never once say before you jump in front of a bullet, whatever you're going to do: Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you gay or straight? We ought to say to every citizen who walks through our door, we're going to treat you with respect, and give you the same rights as we give anybody else."