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COVER STORY

Separate, not equal

Orlando's same-sex couples celebrate the city's new domestic-partnership registry, but a fumble by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs dampens the mood

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“A place like Central Florida that isn’t as far along in recognizing same-sex relationships, it’s a positive,” he says of Orlando’s domestic-partner development. “It shows people that there is hope and that there is respect for their relationships.”

The battle is also, at least figuratively, being fought at the state level. State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, introduced a statewide domestic-partnership registry bill (with State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood), HB 139, back in September, though, as with previous iterations of the bill, it is likely to die in committee when faced with a conservative supermajority.

“I doubt very seriously that this bill will have a hearing in front of a committee or much less a workshop. I think, frankly, the leadership, they don’t have the courage or the ability to be bold,” Pafford says. “You’ve got a system that works against people who have a different way of living; it’s a system that’s discriminatory. Frankly, Florida shouldn’t be discriminating against families or trying to define what a relationship is.”

In a sense, Floridians did that to themselves. In 2008, despite opponents of Amendment 2 – which wrote a gay marriage ban into the state constitution – spending $4.3 million (compared to $1.6 million by proponents), the initiative soared into law, 4.9 million votes to 3 million votes. Among the amendment’s proponents was John Stemberger’s Orlando-based Florida Family Action ($1.1 million donated to the cause) and Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos’ family ($100,000). The National Organization for Marriage – perhaps the loudest group in the national gay marriage argument, and the authors of the anti-gay-marriage pledge signed by all but one of the six candidates for the Republican nomination in the Iowa caucuses – contributed just $10,000. That group doesn’t seem very threatened by Orlando’s small-time lurch toward equality.

“NOM doesn’t have an official position on domestic-partner registry. Typically, however, civil unions-type legislation is used to try to push through same-sex marriage. You’d have to be blind not to see that,” says NOM President Brian Brown from his cellphone at the Iowa caucuses. “Our focus is on marriage. Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do on that.”

Ten years ago, Rob Domenico, 36, and Alan Meeks, 43, met outside the Thornton Park Starbucks. Inside that same Starbucks in late December, the couple occupies the far end of a leather couch while a noisy circle of Orlando police officers suck down their coffee at a nearby table.

Domenico, a community relations director for local HIV/AIDS charity Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, is an animated ball of energy (and self-professed Lady Gaga Monster), while Meeks, an expert in computer simulation, is a cautious rock.

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