Unmarried couples involved in long-term committed relationships face unique challenges. While marriage provides couples with certain legal protections and benefits when it comes to family law, including hospital visitation and access to children, unmarried domestic partners are not automatically afforded the same rights. When Tampa introduced legislation allowing unmarried couples to register for a package of domestic partner benefits two months ago, cities and counties around Florida quickly followed suit. Tampa lawmakers are now considering whether to recognize partnerships registered elsewhere.
While same-sex couples comprise a full 90 percent of Tampa's registered domestic partnerships, the registry is open to unmarried, heterosexual couples as well. Concerns have been raised about moving and traveling from one city or state to another and how these moves will affect domestic partnership rights. Under the current guidelines, visitors to Tampa are not granted rights, even if they have registered elsewhere, and new residents must reregister when they arrive in Tampa.
The proposed changes include recognizing partnerships formed in other cities, or even in other states. However, the question remains as to whether legal same-sex marriages from other states would be recognized in Florida, where marriage is constitutionally defined as exclusively a heterosexual relationship.
In light of changing legislation, committed couples, whether straight or gay, should be aware of the impact registration can have on their rights. In the event of a separation or the illness or death of one partner, legal assistance may be helpful in arranging custody agreements and property division, but registration of the partnership ensures both parties are protected as though they were married.
Source: Tampa Bay Online, "Tampa council eyes broader domestic partnership recognition," Kevin Wiatrowski, Sept. 5, 2012