ORLANDO, Fla. - Orange County commissioners approved a countywide domestic partnership registry ordinance on Tuesday that also recognizes the city of Orlando's registry.
The Health, Education and Life Protection Ordinance, drafted by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, has gone through changes and includes provisions creating a countywide domestic partnership registry.
"We are doing something groundbreaking and providing important rights across the board," Jacobs said before voting for the registry.
All the commissioners but one voted in support of the ordinance.
Gay and straight couples that register under the City of Orlando's DPR will have their relationships recognized countywide and have access to enforceable and vital protections anywhere in Orange County.
The ordinance establishes the same Domestic Partnership registry that the City of Orlando adopted in December, with the addition of allowing any Orange County citizen to designate a "Support Person"--living together or not. The city's ordinance only covers people residing together.
"Every body has an opportunity to now go to our website, download a form and identify who they want to speak for them in the event they can't speak for themselves," Jacobs told Local 6.
The ordinance also doesn't require the residents to have financial or emotion dependency or file publicly. A provision will be made for someone who wants to remain private but leave contact information, Jacobs said at the meeting.
The ordinance allows the support person the rights of the following:
• Health Care Facility Visitation
• Health Care Decisions
• Funeral/ Burial decisions
• Correctional Facility Visitation
• Emergency Notification
• Preneed Guardian Designation (legal guardian if designator is incapacitated)
• Participation in Education (same rights as a parent)
Orange County's passage of this ordinance on Tuesday comes just four days after Volusia County Council members voted to create Central Florida's first countywide registry.
Orange County's ordinance, however, has a stronger legal enforcement than the city or Volusia County's registry. Under the ordinance, the support person has the right to sue in court, seek punitive damages, attorney fees and court costs.
Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Gulfport, Belle Isle, Sarasota, Pinellas, Volusia and Orange counties have all begun the process for adopting a domestic partnership registry since the City of Orlando's registry was created last November.
"Local governments all across Central Florida are following Orlando's lead because they know it's both fair and smart,"said Equality Florida Field Director Joe Saunders in a release. "These communities know that any city or county that isn't moving toward a registry is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new employers and talented workers."
Residents in support of the registry say there has been a need for the ordinance for a long time.
"I've got dozens of friends who've had situations where they've been in car accidents, or they've tried to pick up their partner's children from school and they've had real issues in terms of being able to access those rights and protections," said Michael Farmer.
But not everyone at the meeting supported the registry.
"Any rights that are granted through married couples should never be extended to those who are living in objective evil," said Charlie Norris, who went to the meeting to voice his opinion with his identical brother, John.
The ordinance will go into effect on July 6.
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