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Dissolving partnership

Mayor Teresa Jacobs continues to kick the can on the domestic-partnership registry

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There were more than a few high hopes on the minds of those who headed into the Orange County Administration building downtown on Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was scheduled that day to meet with the Orlando Anti Discrimination Ordinance Committee and several other LGBT leaders to discuss her apparent wobble on support for a domestic-partner registry for county residents – something she acknowledged the need for during her 2010 campaign but has been playing a political game of chicken with since last summer, until she finally landed in a full-on conflict following Orlando’s Dec. 12 passage of a citywide ordinance.

Jacobs had been pressed into a corner that called her promises of “transparency” into question more than her repeated mantra of not being a “rubber-stamp” leader. Her deliberation on the issue was beginning to look deliberate, if not flat-out secretive. Now, even though assurances of “continued talks” and “open dialogues” are being parroted by hopeful gay activists, Jacobs’ staid position – that she worries about the constitutionality of an ordinance, that she doesn’t think partnership rights should require shared domiciles – is, as some have predicted, no more than a Republican Party-line method of distraction in the name of avoidance. The disappointed faces that emerged from the Jan. 26 meeting told a story of swiftly diminishing returns. Jacobs isn’t going to budge.

That hasn’t stopped Orlando Anti Discrimination Ordinance Committee member and attorney Mary Meeks from trying.

“I think the issue becomes, there’s been some potential alternative plan to the domestic-partner registry that has been proposed by Mayor Jacobs that we had some discussion about today,” Meeks said following the Jan. 26 meeting, referring to Jacobs’ apparent advocacy for a “designated beneficiary” ordinance. “And, legally, a domestic-partnership registry is the best way to do this.”

Meeks pointed out that 46 percent of the U.S. population is already covered by domestic-partner registries or more extensive protections; 35 percent of Florida’s citizens likewise have those protections. That doesn’t sound unconstitutional. In fact, as Meeks provided in literature outside the meeting (the press, not surprisingly, was not allowed to attend the meeting), a 2000 decision by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal found Broward County’s domestic-partnership registry did not “create a ‘marriage-like relationship’” and, because it was not limited to same-sex partners, it “did not create that plethora of rights and obligations that accompany a traditional marriage.”

Following the overwhelming passage of Amendment 2 in 2008, an amendment writing a same-sex marriage ban into Florida’s constitution that Jacobs supported, an advisory opinion to the state attorney general from the Florida Supreme Court concluded that the amendment would not affect domestic partnerships, a status that already existed in several counties in the state at that time. Even John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, was quoted as differentiating between the two back in 2008, telling the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times)that “Six to eight rights could never be legally construed to be the substantial equivalent equal to the huge number of rights conferred in marriage.”

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