County's new registry gives area's same-sex partners some rights
By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - Volusia County's new domestic partner registry isn't marriage for any couple, same or different sex. But to some, it's a move toward "marriage equality."
"I feel like it's an important first step," the Rev. Karen Curtis-Weakley said. She's the pastor of New Hope United Church of Christ in DeLand. "It's not enough, but this will help some."
The Rev. Curtis-Weakley led about a half dozen supporters carrying signs supportive of marriage equality at the Thomas C. Kelly County Administration Building on Monday, July 2, the first day couples could register their domestic partnerships. She, and others, said they were surprised that no protestors showed up.
The Volusia County Council adopted the domestic-partner registry in May. Several spoke in favor of it at two public hearings, but no one spoke against it. The one council member who voted against the registry, Joie Alexander of New Smyrna Beach, said her vote wasn't about social concerns, but additional and unnecessary government. She noted that everything the proposed registry provides for could already be done through powers of attorney and other legal mechanisms.
The registry is open to same- and different-sex couples. Among other things, it makes healthcare and correctional facilities allow visits by domestic partners and their dependents, along with notifying them in emergencies and allowing them to participate in decisions spouses normally can.
Fiorella Papini and Jo Drye were among the first couples to get on the registry. They've been together seven years, and had a ceremonial marriage six years ago.
"Primarily because registering means we have the right to visit one another in the hospital," Ms. Papini said. "We've had some illnesses in the past."
Ms. Papini said hospital personnel were always "very kind and considerate," but she was aware that they didn't have to be.
"They can say (visiting) can just be family members," she said. "Without the registry, they could make me leave."
Ms. Drye, who is an Army veteran, said she grew up in a Southern Baptist family that extolled committed relationships. She said the registry is a public affirmation of a committed relationship.
"I want the same rights everyone else has," she said. "I found the love of my life. I never felt we needed a piece of paper, but I'm finding that to have rights, you do."
County Council member Josh Wagner, who pushed for the registry in 2009 and again in 2011, was on hand to meet with the first couples who registered.
"It's exciting," he said. "It was years in the making. It's a great day for Volusia County and Central Florida."
Supporters of the registry say its greatest importance is not to gay and lesbian couples who can't legally marry in Florida, but to older straight couples who opt not to marry for a variety of reasons - oftentimes financial ones.
New Hope United Church of Christ is hosting a celebration for the new domestic partners. On Wednesday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m., the church will have cake and offer a toast at The Abbey, 117 N. Woodland Blvd.