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Cover 04/10/2013

'Til Death Do Us Part...

The battle for a statewide domestic-partnership registry isn’t just a policy fight. It’s personal.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

“We’re sorry,” the police said. They promised to contact Alan’s family.

I didn’t know what would happen next. I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

Within 24 hours, and while Alan’s dried blood was still in my hair, his brother and a family friend were at my house. They quickly set into motion a series of events that, from this one-year distance, seem horrifying, although at the time I was in shock and allowed it all to transpire. They went to the morgue to identify the body, arranged for a local cremation without consulting me, gained access to Alan’s official death certificate, changed his address with the postmaster, promised to get me some ashes, flirted with my girlfriends, walked through the house securing items – computers, financial documents, guns, a chainsaw, a riding lawnmower – that they believed belonged to them, packed up two cars that were registered in my name, took a copy of the Last Will and Testament in which Alan left me everything, and drove off.

It would take an eight-month legal battle (and a nervous breakdown) for me to get back only part of what was rightfully, legally mine.

Though Florida has been making small political strides at the local level with domestic-partnership registries – including those in Orange County and Orlando – the state has historically ignored, or been callous to, the concerns of its gay and lesbian population. In 2008, adding insult to an already existing statute, Florida voters wrote discrimination into the state’s constitution in the form of Amendment 2, a “marriage protection” clause forbidding the state to even consider anything resembling marriage for same-sex couples.

Amendment 2’s proponents swore that it wouldn’t affect domestic-partnership registries: “What is clear is that this [amendment] will not affect domestic partnerships at all,” Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger told the Florida Times-Union in 2008. Of course, the Amendment 2 supporters are today leading the charge against Senate Bill 196, which would establish a statewide domestic-partnership registry. Domestic partnerships, they now claim, are too much like marriage and run afoul of Amendment 2.

SB 196 would mirror many of the fundamental rights offered by local registries, including things like hospital visitation, prison visitation and involvement with the educational activities of shared children. It would also implement some modest estate and inheritance protections. It squeaked by the first of five Senate committees on April 1 with a 5-4 vote, over conservative arguments that gays could achieve the same ends with “good estate planning, or at the very least power of attorney,” as Stemberger said recently.

This is simply not true. I’ve been there, and I’ve gone through it. Alan and I had executed all of the estate-planning mechanisms open to gay couples. I even (somewhat smugly) recorded the process we went through in these pages six years ago [“Keep your matrimony, I’ve got mantrimony,” Oct. 4, 2007]. But as I’ve discovered over the past year, you can’t write yourself into fairness with a notary and some boilerplate documents. These stopgaps don’t add up to real protection, and the undue burden of legal fees and paper chases is patently unfair.

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