HB takes groundbreaking step toward domestic partner registry

Holmes Beach commissioners agreed at an Aug. 13 city meeting to move forward with the creation of a domestic partnership registry for city residents.

The program is making a successful run around the state and recent adoption by the Manasota League of Cities to encourage registries prompted a presentation by the program’s promoters, Ken Shelin and Grace Carlson.

Commission Chair Jean Peelen heard the presentation at a league meeting and invited the pair to present the concept to Holmes Beach.

Shelin told commissioners the registry is gender neutral, meaning it can apply to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who share both a residence and a relationship.

He said the registry does not provide every benefit typically associated with a legal marriage, but does strengthen some basic rights for domestic partners.

The rights strengthened by the registry when adopted within a state, county or city include:

• Health care facility visitation: There are times when a domestic partner will be prevented from visiting a partner because hospital policies allow only “family” visitation rights. A domestic partnership registrant would be afforded that right.

• Health care decisions: A registrant could be designated as a partner’s health care surrogate, so that person could make decisions for a partner.

• Funeral/burial decisions: A registrant would have the same authority as a spouse to follow through with a decedent’s post-life wishes, unless the decedent has written instructions to the contrary.

• Correctional facility visitation: A registrant would have the right to visit a partner at a correctional institution with the same rights afforded a spouse. The visitation rights would extend to the partner’s relatives.

• Pre-need guardian designation: A domestic partner shall not be denied serving as a plenary guardian of his or her partner.

• Participation in education: A registrant would have the same rights to participate in a partner’s child’s education if the other parent, if he or she retains parental rights, does not object.

Carlson added, “It’s about two people watching each other’s back and wanting respect and acknowledgement that they are committed to each other.”

Shelin said when domestic partners register, it is essentially a legal contract and, unlike the complications of dissolving a marriage, only requires a written letter to the city clerk where they are registered to have it terminated.

Without the rights afforded under the registry, even a power of attorney to someone who is not a blood relative or spouse can be easily challenged, Shelin said.

“My point is that you may think you can get certain legal rights under a power of attorney, but it’s not always accepted,” he said.

Carlson commended commissioners for being open to the concept.

“I can tell this is a community that has a great deal of pride in diversity and the live-and-let-live attitude,” she said. “A domestic registry would enhance and enable your economic development resources and enhance community pride.”

Shelin said one of the factors economic development resources look at is a community’s tolerance.

An affidavit is required at the time of registry that states the two partners are competent adults, neither person is married, are not blood related, and each considers themselves to be a partner to the other.

Shelin said the process is inexpensive and cities typically charge around $30 to cover the expense of office materials used to document the partnership and create a domestic partnership identification card.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said it would be better for Manatee County to initiate the registry, considering there are no hospitals in Holmes Beach.

Shelin said a county ordinance would likely only apply to the unincorporated areas of the county and that cities would then have the option to participate.

In the meantime, he asked, “Do you wait until somebody else does something or do you do it now while you have the power to do something?”

Peelen said, “Sometimes the way to get larger entities to act is by smaller entities acting.”

She said the average age of Anna Maria Island residents is about 62.

“I know a lot of people in domestic partnerships and don’t want to get married for very good reasons,” she said. “A lot of those reasons are financial. I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Shelin also explained that if domestic partners register in Holmes Beach, the ordinance would include a reciprocity clause that would extend the domestic partnership rights to every city and county that has adopted a similar registry.

Sarasota recently adopted a registry. So has Tampa, Venice, Orlando and several other cities and counties in the state.

Commissioners agreed 4-0 to authorize city attorney Patricia Petruff to proceed in drafting an ordinance. Commissioner David Zaccagnino was absent with excuse.

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