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Domestic Partnership Registry Builds Momentum for Marriage Equality

Gulfport couples are confident more communities will follow the city's actions and create domestic partnership registries. Supporters believe the momentum will eventually lead to legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.

Historic Day in Gulfport

Nearly two dozen supporters joined in celebration with cheers as Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes signed an ordinance creating a domestic partnership registry on Wednesday.

“I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime," Gulfport resident Chris Spencer said.

Spencer and his life partner Steve Merchant showed their support during Mayor Mike Yakes' public signing of ordinance 2012-10 at .

The night before, council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, creating a domestic partnership registry in Gulfport. In front of a packed council chambers with overflow in the hallway, all five members of the council showed support with their votes. An uproar of enthusiasm spread through the room moments after the last "yes" vote was cast. Council members Jennifer Salmon and Barbara Banno had tears in their eyes during the standing ovation from the crowd.

"I’m very hopeful that things will start snowballing and that we’re going to really see true equality for everyone, the culture is ready for it. These are just six areas of life that we’re asking for equality and what we really need is equality for all areas of life, it’s really the last group of people that do not have full rights in our country,” Salmon said.

"To be the first city in Pinellas County is remarkable. We are a small city making a big stance and to stand up and be a part of this is probably one of the best experiences of my life,” Banno said.

For Banno and many other residents in same-sex relationships, the registry will finally grant them a handful of rights that have been exclusive to married couples.

The registry will grant rights to unmarried couples, gay or straight, when making education choices for children, emergency medical decisions, end-of-life and funeral arrangements.

"The more people who do these things, the more people who register, the more people realize the need for these types of registries," Chris Spencer said.

Although Chris Spencer and Steve Merchant wed in Iowa three years ago, they're marriage is not recognized in Florida. They say Gulfport's steps towards equal rights have given them hope. They say support has spread and today's acceptance is a far cry from discrimination in years past.

"When I first started becoming of age and going out to the gay bars and things, they had to slide a little thing and look and they had to buzz you in . . . Now, we’re accepted,” Merchant said.

Now, they believe momentum will grow and the ultimate quest for equal rights will be achieved.

"Eventually, I think in my lifetime, we will see same-sex marriage legal on a federal basis,” Chris Spencer said.

Other supporters agree.

Gulfport resident Doug Hudson says, "This city respects us for the individuals that we are, and is doing everything it can to grant to us all of the rights that are allowed by Florida law. This is one step in our march towards equality."

Councilor Barbara Banno and her life partner Jeanne Kunkle are proud to be able to obtain additional rights in Gulfport but say their ultimate goal is to have their marriage recognized in Florida. The couple married in Canada in 2006.

"To be able to be recognized as a married couple within in the state of Florida or across the county would be just a day in history that would mean more to me than anything,” Banno said.

For now Banno and other city leaders plan to meet with other municipalities and encourage them to create a domestic partnership registry.

"(We will) attend some of the Pinellas County Commissioners board meetings, tell them about the importance of it and not let the fight stop here,” Banno said.

Mayor Mike Yakes plans to present the newly passed ordinance at the Pinellas County Mayors Council in June.

"This wasn’t a compromise, this was 100% of support. I’m pleased and I’m overwhelmed,” Yakes said.

According to Equality Florida, Gulfport is the 11th municipality to adopt a domestic partnership registry.

Florida cities and counties that have adopted registries are:

  • Broward County
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Palm Beach County
  • Gainesville
  • Key West
  • Miami Beach
  • Orlando
  • West Palm Beach 
  • Tampa
  • Monroe County

How to register:

Gulfport City Clerk Lesley DeMuth says the application will be available within 45 days. Couples may pick up the application at Gulfport City Hall or print it off online. There will be a $25 one-time fee and couples will need to notarize the document with two witnesses. You can either mail it in once it's notarized or you can get that done at City Hall for no additional charge. For more information contact Gulfport City Hall at (727) 893-1000.

About the ordinance:

The domestic partnership registry specifies the following rights and legal effects:

  • Health Care Facility Visitation
  • Health Care Decisions
  • Funeral/burial Decisions
  • Notification of Family Members
  • Preneed guardian designation
  • Participation in Education

According to the ordinance, domestic partners are two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in a family relationship. Two persons are considered to be domestic partners if:

  • They consider themselves to be members of each other's immediate family.
  • They agree to be jointly responsible for each other's welfare.
  • Neither of them is married under the laws of the State of Florida, is a member of another domestic partnership, or civil union with anyone other than the co-applicant.
  • They are not blood related in a way that would prevent them from being married to each other under Florida state law.
  • Each is at least 18 years of age and competent to contract.
  • They each have signed a declaration of domestic partnership as provided for in section 26-45.

For more information about the registry, view Ordinance 2012-10 attached to this story.

Douglas Hudson May 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Cherlene, thanks for this story...what a happy time in Gulfport!
Mark L Grantham May 17, 2012 at 09:44 PM
As we say in one 12 step meeting I attend, "sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly", yes, change does happen, this change happens one person, one step, one day at a time! Gulfport has shown the country, the state and the county that diversity and uniqueness is celebrated and welcomed in Gulfport. The members of the City Council, the Mayor, the attorney, the City Manager and the City Clerk are to be commended, they have worked tirelessly on this. the thunderous applause after the vote is proof that Gulfport welcomes each and everyone.
Philip Penrose May 18, 2012 at 01:37 PM
When the city of Gulfport decided to discuss the ban on smoking on the beach, the forums on this site exploded with comments pro and con. The controversy and discussion (at times very heated) went on for weeks. We even had people from out of state in on the action. Gulfport discusses a Domestic Partner Registry...and the forums here, well - never woke up, much less exploded. Domestic Partner Registry in Gulfport? No big deal. And that's just one of many reasons people enjoy living in Gulfport. ;)
Cherlene Willis May 18, 2012 at 05:21 PM
I thank those of you who decided to comment on this story!

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