Domestic partnership initiative moving forward in the city

Photo by Norman Schimmel

The City of Sarasota is edging towards the cutting edge of modern law to recognize “domestic partnerships,” the relationships of couples beyond the structure of legal matrimony.

The city commissioners on Monday, Aug. 20, received a briefing on a proposed ordinance, asked some questions, suggested some changes and unanimously gave the green light for the measure to proceed.

While normally thought of as a form of legal work-around to offer more rights and benefits to gay married couples, the provision also would cover heterosexual couples who – for whatever reason – decline to wed. It would offer certain protections to unmarried – but registered – domestic partners.

Because of privacy reasons, for example, people can be refused admission to visit their domestic partners in the hospital because they are neither spouse nor kin. Funeral and burial decisions can be denied, even if the couple have been partners for decades. Visitation rights in jails are another issue. The proposed city ordinance would grant all these rights and more upon registration of the partnership.

Would Sarasota recognize such registered partnerships if they were registered elsewhere? City Attorney Bob Fournier said “reciprocity” would be possible, but only for rights granted in the Sarasota ordinance, not additional rights granted elsewhere.

Several Florida cities and counties now have a domestic partnership registration, which includes the ability to terminate the registration if either or both partners wish.Former

City Commissioner Ken Shelin is championing the ordinance. In addition to granting rights to residents in the city, he said it could prove a boon to tourism, especially medical tourism.

As custodian of the records, the city auditor and clerk would grant a raised-seal certificate to each registered partnership.

The measure will be set for a public hearing later this year.