Three for three: Gulfport, St. Pete, and, now, Clearwater approve domestic partnerships

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It's been quite a few months for same-sex couples in Pinellas County.

Last night, the Clearwater City Council unanimously approved the creation of a domestic partnership registry. Earlier that same day, St. Petersburg's City Council approved similar legislation. Both votes to create registries in those cities came on the heels of Gulfport, which passed its own law on the matter last month, the first city in Pinellas to do so.

That's three Pinellas County cities in under two months approving domestic partnerships, which, for a nominal fee, will grant both unmarried heterosexual and same-sex couples certain medical and educational decision-making rights.

The next, logical step would be for the Pinellas County Commission to create a countywide standard for domestic partnership registries, rather than a less practical, piecemeal situation where each city chooses whether to establish its own. This would make it easier to keep track of domestic partnerships from city to city and ensure they are consistently treated in the same manner, especially by health care facilities.

The good news is that all indicators point to this countywide initiative becoming a reality, especially if Commissioner Ken Welch has anything to do with it. Welch, who proposed the idea to the commission, said he hopes the county will have a registry in place no later than the fall.

What's most interesting is how quickly and easily all of this is falling into place. Municipalities at any level — local, statewide, national — are not generally known for political dexterity or for passing any type of legislation swiftly, with little debate, let alone one that touches upon such a heated topic as gay rights.

Of course, we can't forget that if full-fledged marriage, rather than domestic partnerships, was suggested, the legislation likely would have had to contend with more bigotry and vitriol, and passage wouldn't have been so cut and dry. Still, it says something about the times that three Pinellas cities in two months passed such laws without even batting an eye.

And it's not just in the Tampa Bay area by any means — you'll find similar stories if you look at any media outlet in any part of the country. Fervor and support for gay rights and marriage equality continues to swell in many areas. A rainbow-inspired zeitgeist.

The LGBT community attained a substantial media presence over the past six months with a whirlwind of major victories (and occasional defeats).

First, Washington and Maryland became the seventh and eighth states, respectively, to legalize gay marriage earlier this year.

And several high-ranking courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality. Several federal judges dealt the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, several blows. A conservative judge declared the law unconstitutional in February, and in May, a three-judge panel from a U.S. appeals court in Boston ruled that DOMA unfairly denies equal benefits to same-sex couples that are legally married.

California's infamous Proposition 8, a voter-mandated law to ban same-sex marriage in the state, was struck down by a federal appeals court in February. The judge presiding over the case said the legislation "serves no purpose, and has no effect ... other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians ... and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples." Earlier this week that same appeals court went against the urgings of anti-gay activists and said it won't reconsider the ruling, paving the way for the fight to head to the Supreme Court.

In an interview with ABC News last month, President Obama expressed his support of gay marriage.
  • In an interview with ABC News last month, President Obama expressed his support of gay marriage.
North Carolina's vote defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman might have been a stumbling point last month, but gay rights advocates rallied days later when President Obama historically came forward as the first sitting president to voice his support of same-sex marriage. Obama's endorsement really galvanized the cause; from that point more and more people — high-ranking members of his administration and the Democratic Party, celebrities, religious, political and cultural groups and leaders — have come forward to express their support of marriage equality and lauded the president, as well.

As the optimism of gay marriage proponents around the country continues to build, this energy trickles down and has an obvious effect locally. With the passage of domestic partnership registries in Clearwater, St. Pete and Gulfport, same-sex couples have a more official way of recognizing their relationships. And bolstered by recent boons for the LGBT community on a national level, they can only hope that these relationships eventually are recognized by the county and beyond.

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