"Lack of courage" - St. Pete Councilman speaks on Domestic - WFLA News Channel 8

"Lack of courage" - St. Pete Councilman speaks on Domestic Partnership

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A St. Petersburg city councilman is so upset about a decision across the Bay this week he's inviting some businesses to move.

"The ones who voted against it showed absolutely no courage at all," Steve Kornell said. "They didn't have the courage to stand up to bigotry and ignorance."

Kornell, who is the city's first openly gay elected official, says four Hillsborough County commissioners made a big mistake Thursday when they said 'no' to creating a domestic partner registry. The registry would have given more than half a dozen rights to gay and straight couples like hospital visitation. Commissioners Mark Sharpe, Les Miller and Kevin Beckner voted for it. The others didn't.

"My position is based squarely on my faith and my personal beliefs and I feel strongly that it is also reflective of many of those in our community," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham. "My faith, my recognition of thousands of years of societal precedence, and my understanding of our nation's laws prevent me from expanding this motion and support...of that unique special status, privileges and responsibilities outside of marital relationships."

Kornell believes decisions like the one made this week could impact growth.

"This is not about religion. This is about treating all your residents fairly." he said. "I think they'll pay a price for that with businesses. I have a letter ready to go out to Hillsborough County businesses… and I'm going to encourage them if they're disappointed in that and they're not happy that their employees are being told they don't have a right to choose who comes into the hospital with them because four county commissioners decided that they know better and they want to move to a city that doesn't do that … they're more than welcome in St. Petersburg."

Pinellas County already has a domestic partner registry. The cities of St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater have them too. SINCE the registry started in Tampa last year, 369 couples have signed up for it; 246 couples in St. Petersburg; and 43 active domestic partnerships are now registered in Clearwater.

The rights included are:

  • to visit his or her partner in health care facilities
  • to make certain health care decisions for his or her partner
  • to make funeral and burial decisions for his or her partner
  • to be notified as a family member in case of emergency
  • to be designated his or her partner's preneed guardian
  • to participate in the education of his or her partner's children

"This is simply a human issue; not a partisan or a faith issue," said Nick Janovsky, who spoke in support of the registry in Hillsborough County.

But others thought it would be the county government's way of recognizing same-sex unions.

"An undermining - if you will - of the intent, the spirit of the marriage amendment which over 60 percent of the unincorporated county voted for," said Terry Kemple, who opposes the registry.

Others argued the resources are already there for unmarried couples to get legal protections by hiring an attorney, assigning a personal representative, or appointing healthcare surrogate.

"There's no reason for them to have a special registry that increases the size of our government [and] increases expenses," Betty James told the Hillsborough County Commission. "Because if you have these registries, you're going to have to hire staff."

But Kornell said that's not true.

"The City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have not hired one new person to implement this," he said. "Affording someone the right to choose … who goes with them into the hospital - that's a conservative ‘government should stay out of it' value."

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