Sarasota to ponder domestic partnership registry

The Sarasota City Commission debates a domestic partner registry. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota is a city of many facets. One of them is a longstanding acceptance of diversity of sexuality. Largo City Manager Steve Stanton used to come to Sarasota to experience living as Susan Stanton.

She decided to make the change permanent. Largo fired Stanton, and Sarasota came within a hair’s breadth of hiring her (it chose Bob Bartolotta instead). Lake Worth hired Stanton, where she served more than two years before losing a 3-2 vote of confidence. Now Stanton is back in the running to be Sarasota’s next city manager.

While Key West and Miami Beach come to mind as the LGBT havens of Florida, in reality, Sarasota isn’t far behind. And Sarasota actually may be a leader in the variety of lifestyles it welcomes.

So it was no surprise when former City Commissioner Ken Shelin made a presentation Monday evening, May 21, asking the city to establish a domestic partnership registry. A full chamber of supporters wearing an almost infinite variety of red shirts joined him.

Shelin was accompanied at the table by local PR pro Grace Carlson. What’s a “domestic partnership”? Carlson described it as “two loving and committed adults who live together in a mutual residence and share a common domestic life.”

In 2008, Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by defining marriage as a union between only a man and a woman.

But in recent years, cities and counties have been offering domestic partnership registries, complete with official certificates and other trappings of civil legitimacy. The City of Orlando, South Miami and Gulfport offer the registries.

Shelin and Carlson said such a registry does not conflict with the state constitution, based on an advisory opinion of the Florida Supreme Court to the Florida attorney general.

Because this was a presentation, the commissioners were not required to act. No questions were asked; no motions made.

But at the end of the evening, when the city commissioners were making reports and comments, Commissioner Terry Turner asked City Attorney Bob Fournier whether the registry proposal held any legal liability for the city. Fournier said he had not spent any time on the subject, and Turner said he would appreciate “the benefit of counsel.”

Commissioner Shannon Snyder noted the registry “would only be for [city] residents,” and asked Fournier to “bring back a report.”

Snyder suggested – perhaps tongue-in-cheek – that Shelin and Carlson make their pitch to the Sarasota County Commission, because if a countywide registry were created, it would take the local cities out of the business.