ORLANDO – Every day that she leaves her home to go to work, said attorney Mary Meeks, her wife tells her to be very careful.
She says that, Meeks added, because the gay couple live in a city without a domestic partnership ordinance – a registry that would allow gay and lesbian couples to have legal rights to be able to visit one another in a hospital, nursing home or jail, and to make funeral plans or health care decisions if their partner becomes incapacitated.
That is, until today, when the Orlando City Council held a public hearing on, and then unanimously approved, a proposed domestic partnership ordinance. The proposal is expected to final a final vote of approval on Monday, Dec. 12.
“For me personally, this will lift the heavy burden on me that I face every day,” said Meeks, an attorney with the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee. “We worry every day about what happens to us.”
On the other hand, Meeks said she was optimistic that the council would support the ordinance, proposed by Councilor Patty Sheehan and with the support of Mayor Buddy Dyer, to allow couples to register with the city for a $30 fee.
“I look up here and see a lot of old friends who have been very supportive of us in the past,”
Mayor Dyer indicated at the start of the public hearing that this issue has his support, when he recognized there were people in the council chambers from the gay, lesbian and transgender community who were attending to show their support for the proposed ordinance.
“They’re here today to help celebrate the adoption of Central Florida’s first-ever domestic partnership registry,” Dyer said.
Sheehan, likewise, noted that this issue has been a passionate one for her for years.
“There’s a lot that goes into writing these ordinances,” she said. “This means so much to me, personally and professionally.”
The registry would not be limited to Orlando residents, although it would only apply to facilities – hospitals, nursing homes, etc. – within the Orlando city limits. It would also offer domestic partner benefits to city employees.
But even that would be a critical first step, Meeks said, since this registry would address “truly life and death situations that are eventually faced by every family. This will be quite historic for Orlando. “
It could also, she said, inspire other communities to follow suit. Orlando, Meeks said, was setting a great example.
“I believe this registry will be transformational for our community,” she said. “We believe it will spur other communities to follow Orlando’s lead.”
Local gay activists have been pushing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs to support a similar domestic partnership registry for the entire county.
“We are hopeful the county will in fact follow the lead of Orlando,” Meeks said.
Joe Saunders, the field director at the gay rights group Equality Florida, agreed.
“On the way over here, I was thinking about how historic this would be,” he said. “We will create the tenth policy that shows Central Florida is leading the state. We are incubating policies that will become a model for other communities.”
It would also, he said, help the city financially and economically – and not just because people would pay a fee to the city to register.
“It will help us in our conversations on economic development,” he said. “Companies want to come here if they know their employees will be happy and safe here.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.