ORLANDO, Fla. – Gay advocates expect a rush of same-sex couples at City Hall when this central Florida city’s new domestic-partnership registry opens next month.
The City Clerk’s Office tells the Orlando Sentinel that it already has begun accepting appointments for couples to sign the registry once it officially opens.
All 16 appointments available Jan. 12, the registry’s opening day, are full.
“I think there’s going to be incredible interest. We’re going to see a big surge in the beginning,” said Equality Florida field director Joe Saunders.
The registry doesn’t bestow the same legal privileges of marriage or a civil union. Couples who record their relationships in the registry are entered into a government database and will be able to visit each other in the hospital or jail, make health-care decisions for an incapacitated partner and plan a partner’s funeral.
The registry also is open to heterosexual partners, and some have scheduled appoints to sign the registry, city officials said.
It only applies to hospitals and other institutions in Orlando, though people living outside the city can sign.
Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan pushed for the registry, noting that same-sex couples can be barred from seeing their partners during medical emergencies because state law doesn’t recognize them as family. Gay people are sometimes unable to execute a partner’s funeral plans for the same reason.
“It’s not as many rights as marriage, but it helps couples during very difficult times,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan and her partner, Jocelynn White, are scheduled to be the first couple to sign Orlando’s registry.
Mayor Buddy Dyer said he expects some nonresidents to register because anyone in central Florida could become a patient at Orlando Health or Florida Hospital, the region’s two biggest hospitals.
Visitors from other states may also sign up while on vacation in Orlando. Metro Orlando saw 51 million visitors last year, and Gay Days and Orlando Pride are popular events.
Dyer said some visitors might see it as a form of travel insurance: If someone gets injured while vacationing here, at least his or her partner could help make health-care decisions.
For others, the registry is a chance to have a government officially acknowledge their relationship- even if it’s not their hometown government.
“There were many couples in Florida who went to California or Massachusetts or states like Vermont to get married because they think it is important to have a government recognize their relationship, and to get the legal benefits even if some of those rights aren’t available in Florida when they come back,” Saunders said.
“There is a history of our families looking for ways to say publicly and openly with the force of government that they are a family,” he said.