Amended civil unions bill to be considered in Senate committee
Mar 11, 2013

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2013 Legislative Session

TALLAHASSEE (NSF) -- Sen. Eleanor Sobel’s Children and Families Committee will hear March 12 an amended version of her proposal to provide domestic partnership benefits, which would spell out certain limited benefits unmarried couples could have under the law.

Sobel said in an interview Friday with The News Service of Florida that she listened to concerns during a Feb. 19 hearing on the bill in the committee and believes the measure that will be presented on Tuesday will have a better chance to pass.

Sobel, D-Hollywood, pulled the bill (SB 196) from consideration at the panel’s Feb. 19 meeting when it became apparent that the votes weren’t there to pass the measure.

Under an amended version of the proposal to be heard Tuesday, the bill would spell out specific rights that unmarried couples could be granted if they’re on a domestic partnership registry, rather than the potentially much broader group of rights that could have been conferred by the original legislation. Sobel said the new bill would seek to give unmarried couples, straight or gay, the ability to visit each other in hospitals, to share rooms in certain places like assisted living facilities, and the ability to jointly own real estate.

“It will be more narrowly defined, more clearly defined,” Sobel said, noting that the new version will be based on existing domestic partnership registries already used in some Florida cities and counties.

Opponents of the bill said in Feb. 19 Children and Families Committee meeting that it was too broad. Opponents of the measure included Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action, the legislative arm of Florida Family Policy Council.

Bunkley and Stemberger both indicated they would oppose an amended version of the measure, which Sobel indicated at the Feb. 19 meeting she would likely seek to advance.

A measure tailored after those adopted by some Florida counties and cities is unacceptable to Stemberger as “bad public policy,” he said during the Feb. 19 meeting. Among other reasons, he rejects such approaches because “they are usually an incremental approach to achieving gay marriage,” he said, citing briefs by gay rights organizations currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sobel, who is chairwoman of the committee despite being a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Senate, said just getting to bring the bill up for a committee vote and get it debated was an accomplishment.

“Civil unions have never even been heard in the Florida Legislature,” she said. “This is a major milestone, the fact we’re even having this debate.”

With reporting by Florida Baptist Witness.

Related Coverage:

2013 Legislative Session

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