TALLAHASSEE - A statewide bill that would allow Floridians to enter "domestic partnerships" (SB 196) was filed this week by Senator Eleanor Sobel (D). The “Families First” bill would extend important legal protections to same-sex couples in Florida including hospital visitation rights and the ability to make healthcare decisions for a partner.
“This bill makes a lasting change in the lives of many Florida families. By keeping couples together through affording them the same equal rights, we are supporting Florida families,” Senator Sobel commented. “A majority of Americans support extending benefits to couples in domestic partnerships. We cannot allow Florida to be the last state to treat all of its citizens fairly and equally. I am committed to sponsoring and fighting for this bill until it is heard, passed, and signed by the governor.”
SB 196 comes at a time when public support for gay families is at an all time high. In Florida, a majority of the population already lives in a community that has domestic partnerships on the local level. Those communities include Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami Dade County, Volusia County, Orange County, Gainesville, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Gulfport, Tampa and Sarasota.
“It is essential that the Florida Legislature approves the Families First Act to give families legal protections provided by a domestic partnership, such as medical decision-making, hospital visitation rights and the use of family medical leave,” said Representative Mark Pafford, House Bill sponsor. “Domestic partnerships greatly benefit couples that have formed long-term, mutually supportive relationships, and in many cases, the partnerships have profound benefits for the children of these couples. The time has come to support all families in Florida, and I remain hopeful that this important legislation advances during Florida’s 2013 lawmaking session that begins in a few weeks.”
The bill states: "The state has a strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families, and believes that all families should be provided with the opportunity to obtain necessary legal protections and status and the ability to achieve their fullest potential."
"The 'Families First' bill allows for committed couples in Florida to register and get important legal protections for their family," said Mallory Wells, Equality Florida's Public Policy Director. "Equality Florida is proud to have worked with Senator Sobel and Representative Pafford to introduce legislation that will benefit the lives of so many families in Florida."
“We’ve seen tremendous change on the local level in recognizing same-sex relationships,” said Wells. “But now we face a patchwork of policies. So someone can work in Orange County and be recognized there, but live across county lines in Seminole County and not be recognized there. Senator Sobel’s “Families First” bill would allow couples to register and have their relationship recognized, no matter where they live in the state.”
Families First would provide all of the state afforded benefits to married couples to registered domestic partners. Equality Florida will work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to move forward the discussion about the importance of domestic partnerships for Florida’s families.
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.