[LETTER] DP Registry v Useless forms

From Mary Meeks, the attorney who testified at the Hillsborough County Commission hearing on Domestic Partner Registries (DPR).

Dear Commissioner Higginbotham,

I direct this letter to you and your 3 colleagues who voted on Wednesday to betray your obligation to care for and represent ALL of your constituents. As you know, I spoke at the Commission hearing on March 20 at the invitation of Commissioner Beckner, as an attorney with extensive experience in drafting “protective documentation” for gay and unmarried couples, who has consulted with numerous Florida municipalities regarding their consideration of a domestic partnership registry. I was specifically asked to advise the Board of my opinion and experiences concerning the very real limitations of the legal documents that you propose as a substitute for the inherent rights granted by a Domestic Partner Registry. I was extremely disappointed that you clearly did not want to hear my comments, and that you once again voted against any consideration of a DPR for Hillsborough County, and instead proceeded with your sham proposal to pass out some forms that are already available, and which will do virtually nothing to provide the protections needed by domestic partners for their families. Your proposal ignores the fact that the very reason that DPRs were designed in the first place is because these forms DO NOT provide the necessary protections to families. Every other city and county that has looked at this issue has reached the same obvious conclusion. I could tell you story after story of couples who have executed these forms, who have still been denied the right to be together and make decisions for each other in times of medical crisis. A DPR would fix that -giving people forms they have already executed will not. What do you say to those people? Why don't they matter to you? 

My partner and I have been together for 15 years. We have executed all of the documents in your package and then some. Yet, I still do not have the legal right to see her if she is dying in the hospital - why is that ok with you? I still do not have the right to make arrangements for her funeral when she dies her next of kin will have to do it - why is that ok with you? I still will not be notified if she is in an accident - why is that ok with you? I still can't pick up her child from school if she is ill or injured or there is an emergency like a hurricane - why is that ok with you? I still can't make medical decisions for her if she is incapacitated, if I can't find the form, or if she didn't execute it correctly, or if the hospital doesn't like the form or claims they can't read my name, or if we moved and hadn't updated the form yet, or if a bigot just decides to ignore it - why is that ok with you?

I was, frankly, shocked at your total indifference - to the truth, and to the best interests of the community that you serve. Why do you want me to not have the same inherent protections that you have? Why do you want to place my family at risk in situations that your family is protected? You just effectively told my family to go to hell. I truly cannot comprehend the level of disregard for human welfare and dignity that was exhibited by you and your 3 colleagues at the hearing. 

You also promulgated blatant falsehoods about DPRs in your comments at the hearing:

• DPRS do not create a “new level of government.” They simply create rights. If you bothered to check with all of the cities and counties in Florida that have implemented DPRs, you would know that they cost nothing, and are in fact revenue producers, and they require extremely minimal administrative burden - the simple ministerial function of handing out the necessary paperwork, and then receiving it back with payment when completed, and providing a certificate to the registrants. That’s all. The County is not thereafter involved in any way in enforcing the rights granted, that is done through private judicial action by the registrants.

• DPRs do not suffer the same limitations and potential liabilities as the forms you propose. That is because DPRs create inherent rights that are not dependant on legal forms. Once registered, the couples do not need to present forms to anyone to enjoy the rights granted – those rights are granted by law. Thus, there are no legal documents to draft, or understand, or execute, or interpret. That is the way that YOU enjoy these rights. Your spouse is your healthcare surrogate even if you have not executed a legal document designating her as your surrogate. A DPR gives me that same right, not a useless document.

• You referred to “recording” of the legal documents that you propose. Only specific types of documents designated by law can be “recorded” in the public records, and the documents in your packet are not included, so they must be carried around 24/7 to make sure people have them when needed. DPR Registrations, on the other hand, are designed as “recordable” documents and recorded in the public records, so that couples’ status as registered DPs is easily accessible for confirmation if necessary, and no other “documents” are necessary.

• At the first hearing on DPRs, you stated your religious objection to DPRs and referred to protecting the sanctity of marriage. Please do not think that DPRs have anything to do with marriage. They only provide less than one-half of 1% of the inherent rights granted to married spouses – 6 of some 1400 to 1500. That blatantly false propaganda has been refuted by Florida courts.

Commissioner Higginbotham, neither religion nor politics is an acceptable excuse for abusing your power to cause harm to people. And that's what you are doing, and everybody knows it. Shame on you. We won't forget. 

– Mary Meeks


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