TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida state Senate panel on Monday passed the “Families First bill,” a measure that would provide limited legal protections for same-sex unmarried partners by creating a statewide domestic partnership registry.
The Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs subcommittee approved the bill (SB 196) by a vote of 5-4. It now heads to the Senate Judiciary committee for its review and vote before it is sent on to the full Senate.
The Families First bill “would eliminate the patchwork of policies and allow people to have important legal protections for their family, no matter where they live,” said Nadine Smith, president of Equality Florida, in a statement after the vote.
“A majority of Floridians already live in a local community that has a domestic partnership registry. Places like Pinellas County, Volusia County, Orange County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Key West, Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, Tavares, Clearwater and North Miami already have registries,” said Smith.
“Local Domestic Partnership Registries now protect roughly 50 percent of Florida’s population. The protections are vital especially since the state has a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.”
Observers point out that under current Florida law, persons in unmarried domestic partnerships who are barred from civil unions and marriage by Florida’s passage of Amendment 2 in 2008, are unable to enjoy the legal protections such as hospital visitation, correctional facility visitation, end of life decision making and burial arrangements.
Eighteen Florida cities and counties already have created domestic partnership registries with limited rights such as the ability to visit partners who are hospitalized.
Subcommittee Chair Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood, Fla.), the bill’s sponsor, postponed an earlier vote in February after acknowledging the measure would be defeated. She said she would would rewrite the bill to more closely match existing local ordinances.
An identical Florida House version of the bill (HB 259), is currently pending before the House judiciary Committee.