ORLANDO – Since Jan. 12, more than 120 people have visited the Orlando City Clerk’s office with a special mission: to be among the very first to register with their gay or lesbian partner in Orlando’s new Domestic Partner Registry.
And those couples started registering right after The Advocate, a national gay magazine, published its third annual list of the “Gayest Cities in America” – with Orlando ranking second, ahead of such prominent gay havens as San Francisco, West Hollywood and Provincetown, which didn’t even make the list.
Orlando has an anti-discrimination ordinance that bans businesses from refusing to hire gay employees, or landlords from refusing to rent to gay and lesbians. That oridnance was passed in 2002.
Late last year, the Orlando City Council followed that up and unanimously approved the domestic partners registry, with the strong support of Mayor Buddy Dyer.
The registry at the City Clerk’s office defines a domestic partnership, which in this case refers to an unmarried couple who live together in a committed relationship. Florida does not allow same-sex marriage, or recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
The registry provides certain legal rights to these gay and lesbian couples, outlines the registration process and provides an overview of protections provided within a domestic partnership that has been recognized by the city of Orlando.
Those protections include hospital visitation, the right of one partner to make health care decisions for another, correctional facility visitations, the right to make funeral or burial decisions, and the right of both domestic partners to participate in the education of their children.
When the registry went into effect on Jan. 12, Dyer and City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who sponsored the domestic partners registry and worked with members of Orlando’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee to draft it, were on hand on the second floor of City Hall to watch the registry go into effect and to mark the event with a celebration.
On Monday, during the council’s regular meeting, Dyer said the registry has been a success.
“The Domestic Partnership Registry went into effect on January 12, and since then we’ve had 132 couples register, and 29 of them signed up on the very first day,” Dyer said.
Sheehan agreed, saying the first day marked a very historic moment in the city.
“Mayor, I am delighted about the domestic partner registry going into effect,” Sheehan said. “It was really a special day for everyone who attended, and it recognized our relationships.”
Sheehan noted that she and her partner were among the first couples to register, and she thanked her colleagues for voting unanimously in favor of it.
“Thank you again to the city council for approving this,” Sheehan said.
The article in The Advocate magazine, written by Matthew Breen, ranked the top 15 gay friendly cities as Salt Lake City, Orlando, Cambridge, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, Ann Arbor, St. Paul and Minneapolis, Knoxville, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Little Rock, Portland, Ore., Austin, Long Beach and Denver.
In the article, Breen cites Orlando’s years of hosting the annual Gay Days weekends every June, as well as the huge number of gay-themed plays produced every May at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, as two examples of why the city earned the high ranking.
“Besides hosting Gay Days at Disney World, where 50,000 LGBT folks and their kids dressed in red T-shirts invade the theme park the first Saturday in June (and spend $100 million in town), Orlando has more gay softball teams than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at,” Breen writes. “And residents just got domestic-partnership protections. For non-Mickeyphiles, there’s oodles of homo content each year at the annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival (OrlandoFringe.org).”
There is a $30 fee to sign up with the new registry, which allows gay and lesbian couples to have legal rights to be able to visit one another in the hospital, nursing home or jail, and to make funeral plans or health care decisions if their partner becomes incapacitated.
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.
Orlando now becomes the first city in Central Florida to adopt a domestic partners registry.
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