Domestic partner bill re-introduced

September 14, 2011

Originally published September 14, 2011

By Bill Cotterell
Florida Capital Bureau  

Despite a constitutional mandate restricting marriage to a man and a woman, two Southeast Florida legislators have re-introduced domestic-partnership bills to recognize couples — gay or straight — who live together but can't or won't get married.

The head of the Florida Family Policy Council, who led a successful campaign to ban gay marriage in Florida, said the bills by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, violate provisions of the "marriage protection" amendment.

Attorney John Stemberger of Orlando said he specifically included language in that edict, forbidding state recognition of anything that is "substantially equivalent" to marriage, in anticipation of civil-union or domestic-partnership legislation being considered.

Pafford and Sobel introduced their proposal this year but it died in both the House and Senate without a committee hearing. Pafford said he hopes to sell it in the 2012 session as a boost to economic development, since so many big corporations extend health insurance and other company benefits to same-sex couples or other cohabiting partners.

"I think since it is a business idea that would assist the economy, help bring more Fortune 500 companies to Florida. It has a chance. I'm an optimist," he said. "There's a political risk, but let's not look at it as a political risk. Let's look at what's good public policy."

In his Palm Beach County district, Pafford said, many elderly widows and widowers live together because marrying would cause one or both of them to lose a spouse's pension benefits. He said those couples should have the same legal status as people who have had civil ceremonies.

"We're not creating a different definition of marriage," said Pafford. "We're looking at benefits that people who are married have, versus what people in domestic partnerships don't. All this bill does is basically to remove discrimination."

"I'm really surprised that they're attempting to do something that's clearly unconstitutional," said Stemberger. "This is not just a domestic-partnership bill, it's creation of a gay marriage."

Equality Florida, a statewide gay rights organization, issued a statement commending Pafford and Sobel.  

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