November 09, 2009
Registry is right
Unmarried partners should have visitation, benefits
The Hollywood image of the nuclear family -- with Mom vacuuming in pearls, Dad presiding over the grill and a marriage certificate lovingly tucked into a brocaded album -- is inviting. But real relationships can be more complicated. Some couples -- particularly retirees -- have been together for years but shun marriage because one or both partners would lose pension or other benefits. And Florida, like most states, specifically denies marital status to same-sex couples.
Despite that legal provision, an increasing number of Florida counties and municipalities have created domestic-partner registries, giving couples the opportunity to legally declare a contractual obligation to one another. The registries have been instrumental in helping unmarried partners obtain insurance benefits and visit each other in hospitals or correctional facilities. And when challenged in court, the registries have been upheld -- as long as they didn't attempt to create any marital relationship or rights.
Volusia County Councilman Josh Wagner says Volusia County should follow suit. He's right. Creating such a registry would help unmarried couples who shouldn't have to worry about their status in case of a serious emergency. Wagner's argument that the registry would be an economic incentive to companies seeking to relocate is probably a stretch, but the documentation would make it easier on major employers already in Volusia County that grant domestic-partner benefits -- such as AT&T.
Wagner's proposal drew conflicted reactions at Thursday's County Council meeting. Council members Jack Hayman and Joie Alexander were the most adamantly opposed, and Councilwoman Pat Northey wondered why the ordinance would be needed -- citing county research finding that Halifax Medical Center (the only local hospital with a visitation policy) did not ban visits by unmarried partners. Nor did the Volusia County Jail.
But official policies don't always govern reality. Lawrence Glinzman of Ormond-by-the-Sea related his experience when his partner of 27 years, Carlos P. Murphy, was hospitalized. "Every time a new employee showed up, I had to argue with them" to remain by Murphy's side, he said. And the conflicts continued when Murphy went to a rehabilitation facility.
People in long-term committed relationships shouldn't have to worry whether they will be barred from someone they love in the event of a medical emergency. Council members should give them peace of mind by approving the registry and setting fees to ensure it is self-supporting. In setting up legal protections for domestic partners, council members wouldn't be rejecting marriage -- simply acknowledging that for Volusia families, one status doesn't fit all.