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Dissolving partnership

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

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That’s why Jacobs’ constitutional concerns come as a bitter pill for Equality Florida’s state field director, Joe Saunders, who fought against Amendment 2.

“It was frustrating, because you get through that entire fight, you hear them say that what happens won’t affect domestic partnership,” he says. “To hear that carted back out is very emotional.”

But it is being carted back out, and though she continually denies it, Jacobs may be along for the ride. In a position statement revised on Jan. 5, Focus on the Family – the national group of which Stemberger’s Family Policy Council is a part – reiterated what most already suspected: “Given the goal of redefining marriage, Focus on the Family opposes the legal creation of civil unions and domestic partnerships as counterfeit policy attempts to imitate marriage.” Also, Stemberger recently said that he has no position on domestic partnerships so long as they don’t create a special status for gay couples. Jacobs continues to echo that sentiment, though activists point out that she already used the term “domestic partner” when she passed domestic-partnership benefits for county employees last year.

Perhaps that’s why Jacobs has been so intent on managing her message in recent weeks. Following a Jan. 9 press conference hastily assembled by Jacobs to get the media on her side before a town hall planned by gay activists, she personally contacted at least two media outlets in an effort to scold them on what she considered unfair coverage. (Her staff also contacted Orlando Weekly, which covered the story extensively; “Separate, not equal,” Jan. 12.)

Following the Jan. 26 meeting, Jacobs released a statement to the uninvited media that defined her position, however vaguely, once again: “I will continue to research this complex issue and will schedule another meeting with the group before bringing the issue to the Board of County Commissioners next month. My goal is to introduce an ordinance in Orange County that meets the needs of our citizens without substantial risk of being successfully challenged in a court of law,” she concluded.

Behind the scenes, activists appear to be scrambling for a Plan B. They say that should somebody else on the Board of County Commissioners decide to present a plan different than the one Jacobs ultimately produces, she promises to be open to allowing the matter to go up for a vote, even if she plans to vote against it. Finding the right commissioners could be difficult, though, as some among the board that have expressed support have similar political ties to those of Jacobs. Notably, Commissioners Scott Boyd and Jennifer Thompson utilized consultant John Dowless, the former head of the Christian Coalition of Florida who was “outed” by the gay Washington Blade in 2006, on their campaigns.

Surprisingly, Dowless was allowed into the Jan. 26 closed-door meeting with gay activists, though by most accounts – including those of Jacobs herself shedding a tear or two – he didn’t say anything. Asked what he was there for by another reporter, Dowless smiled and picked up his pace, walking away.

“I was a listener,” he said.

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