State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, joined Democrats in voting for the domestic partnership registry. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A Florida Senate committee approved a bill yesterday that would give same-sex couples more rights by allowing them to enter into a domestic partnership registry.

For years, gay rights groups have been lobbying for a statewide domestic partnership bill — but the increasingly conservative Florida Legislature had stalled those efforts. That’s why yesterday’s vote in favor of the bill was called historic by its sponsor, state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The Tampa Bay Times points out, however, that the bill has very little chance of making it further:

Republicans, who dominate both the House and Senate, have shown little interest in the proposal, and it was only heard Monday because sponsor Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairs the committee that was considering it.

The bill, SB 196, must still pass four Senate committees — all controlled by Republicans — before it could make it before the full Senate for consideration. The House version of the bill, HB 259, has not been scheduled for a hearing in any committee.

“We look forward to making this a reality eventually in the state of Florida because it’s really about fundamental fairness,” Sobel said.

The bill, which could apply to any unmarried couple, has been opposed by conservatives who say it is a first step toward gay marriage.

Despite the hard fight ahead, the Sun Sentinel reports that gay rights activists were thrilled that the bill finally passed in committee:

The 5-4 vote on SB 196 by the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs came without any debate from lawmakers and no testimony from the gay rights community; the vote had twice been postponed, once to rewrite the bill and once because a supporter would be absent.

But advocates said the outcome was a forceful statement in favor of more rights for the gay community in Florida.

“This is the first time the Florida Legislature has ever voted to recognize same-sex relationships and provide protections for committed couples all over the state of Florida who cannot or choose not to be married,” said Mallory Wells, a lobbyist for Equality Florida, which organized members of the gay community to travel to Tallahassee in the past month to lobby on behalf of the bill. “So this is a historic day certainly for us.”

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, changed her vote following a rewrite of the bill a few weeks ago. She joined the Democrats in voting for the domestic partnership registry.

The bill, according to the Florida Current, would give same-sex couples the rights to “visit a partner held in a corrections facility; visit a partner in the hospital; serve as a health proxy; receive emergency notifications; make funeral arrangements; be an heir, and jointly own real property.”

Currently, 18 municipalities in Florida offer domestic partnership registries.

Conservative groups have opposed every form of the bill in Florida because they believe domestic partnership registries represent the first step toward legalizing gay marriage. However, Florida has a constitutional ban on gay marriage.