Leon County extends rights to unwed couples


Leon County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley said she would never forget the speech she heard during the commission meeting on March 12.

A woman candidly discussed her previous tussles with breast and colon cancer, Lindley recalled.

But the woman’s partner of 23 years was nowhere to be found during that time, Lindley said, making it hard to cope. Her partner was barred from visiting because the two were not married.

“She wasn’t even allowed to be in intensive care with the woman, let alone make any decisions,” Lindley said. “That testimony was heartbreaking to hear.”

By the meeting’s end, the Leon County Commission ensured that experience would never repeat itself. A vote unanimously established the Domestic Partnership Registry, which provides legal benefits for unmarried gay and straight couples that reside in Leon County.

The DPR, geared toward giving domestic partners a say in each other’s health care and educational matters, among other rights, is the first of its kind in North Florida. It also makes Leon County the latest community in Florida to extend rights to unmarried couples that were once afforded only to spouses.

Lindley said she realized the registry was long overdue after holding sit-down conversations with many LGBT community members last year. She said she knew soon after that something needed to be done on behalf of same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike.

“It’s an extension of human rights,” said Lindley, who proposed the registry, which will take effect May 1. “It’s symbolic in larger parts. It shows we finally recognize these people as family units. We know they’re already responsible for each other. So, making them legally responsible was the decent thing to do.”

Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Volusia and Broward counties already have DPRs.

Statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census show that 7,535 Leon County households were unwed partner homes. Of those households, 88 percent were opposite-sex and 12 percent were same-sex.

Leon County’s DPR grants domestic partners seven rights, according to the commission. Gay and straight partners would be allowed to visit each other in the hospital, make funeral decisions and act as health care surrogates on each other’s behalf. 12