The cities of Tampa and Gulfport gave Pride Week an extra kick on Monday. That was the day the cities opened their new domestic partner registries, which offer unmarried partners both gay and straight the chance to sign up for some of the rights previously available only to married couples and immediate family members, among them the right to visit and make decisions for a partner in a health care facility; to make funeral and burial decisions for a partner; to be notified as a family member in case of emergency; and to participate in decisions about the education of a partner’s child. St. Petersburg and Clearwater’s city councils have voted to establish registries as well, with opening dates to be announced, and Pinellas County is considering a countywide standard. (Hillsborough County — once infamous for a ban on gay pride observance but now boasting an openly gay county commissioner — will take a little longer.)
A domestic partnership is not the same thing as a marriage, city officials and LGBT activists are quick to point out. But in Tampa Bay, the acceptance that these registries represent is a milestone that just a few years ago might have been unthinkable.
Creative Loafing talked to three couples last week who were planning to register, and who were instrumental in making city-certified domestic partnerships a reality in their respective towns.
Ed Lally & Phil Dinkins, Tampa
Together: 35 years in October; married in Toronto, Canada, 2003
Careers: Tampa Development Officer, Equality Florida; Commercial leasing agent, CLW
Registered? They were hoping to be the first couple in line on Monday, but were unable to leave their Sunset Park home because of Debby-flooded streets. They’re hoping to register later this week.
Why get registered?
Ed: I think number one it’s a recognition by the city of my relationship with Phil… This is a big deal even though it’s just a handful of protections. We lose out on 1,138 federal protections and benefits that are allotted to people legally married in the U.S.
Phil: It’s a great first step.
What role did you play in getting the registry approved?
Ed: I went down and testified to both hearings — Phil did, too — about the importance of implementing this registry. Thirty people got up and spoke about why it was important… This is the direct result of 15 years of Equality Florida work. We helped put together the language in Orlando a few months ago. Now it’s kinda fun — all these cities across the state are calling us and asking for our help — we’ve got 20 campaigns going on in other cities and counties across the state for either a registry or a human rights ordinance. Tampa was the first to approve a registry in Tampa Bay, then Gulfport, then Clearwater, then St. Pete.
Partner or husband?
Ed: We no longer use partner. But sometimes we’ll use the word spouse — in my mind, spouse is non-confrontational.
Who made the first move 35 years ago?
Phil: Ed approached me in a bar in Louisville on a Tuesday night.
Did he have a good opening line?
Phil: It generally had to do with an invitation to go home with him that night. [Phil didn’t, but a date the next night sealed it.] The marriage came 26 years late. [Ed proposed via email.] I responded to the email, he made all the arrangements, and we married on the 26th anniversary of that first meeting. It was also my parents’ anniversary — and they’ve been married 70 years.
What makes you proudest of your spouse?
Ed: How good of a guy he is.
Phil: He’s my little activist.
Ed: Not “little” activist…
Phil: He feels so passionately about stuff — about LGBT rights. It’s inspiring — not just for me but for others.