CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Southwest Florida's largest city could join others in the state - and become the first in Lee County - with a Domestic Partnership Registry. The registry would give committed but unmarried couples some of the same benefits as married couples.
Although a petition to be heard Monday does not specifically mention same-sex couples, Cape Councilman Derrick Donnell expects the issue to dominate discussions.
"This is titled 'Domestic Partnership Registry,' so that entails heterosexuals, widows, and the gay community," Donnell told WINK News. "But we might as well not play around with the issue. This is about gay marriage."
Donnell said he was open to hearing from all sides, and hopes they'll listen to each other in return.
"I'm hopeful that on this topic, as a community, we can come together and talk about it ... before we jump to a conclusion," Donnell said.
Similar registries already exist in other Florida cities, including Punta Gorda, North Port, Venice and Sarasota. But the issue as it pertains to same-sex relationships is still potentially divisive.
"I believe everybody has the right to marry or date whoever they want," Cape Coral resident Michelle Albenga told WINK News.
"I think it runs afoul of my Christian beliefs," said Scott Ciak. "I just don't know that I could lend my support."
Supporters of the petition, filed by a Sarasota man who helped Punta Gorda and North Port pass their registries, say there are benefits to the community, not just individuals. A Power Point presentation shared with council members suggests a registry would be attractive to companies that value diversity, and could help promote employee recruitment, retention and loyalty.
The petition uses Sarasota's Domestic Partnership Registry as an example for Cape Coral to potentially follow. It refers to two "persons," rather than a man and a woman. It would give domestic partners in the city some of the benefits afforded legally married couples, such as hospital visitation rights and the ability to make medical and funeral decisions on the other's behalf.
The registry would not confer any rights outside the city limits, and would not be recognized by the state. Florida's current ban on same-sex marriage is tied up in the courts.
Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki recently announced her support of same-sex marriage. Documentation shows she gave approval for the petition to be brought before the council for discussion.
Some in Cape Coral say the benefits aren't just for same-sex couples. Anna Heinrich believes there could be a benefit for aging senior citizens who have survived a spouse and may now be in an unmarried late-in-life relationship.
"As they get older, I think they need that support in the event of a death," Heinrich said. "Just like a married couple has."
City leaders say any decision on the matter is likely still months away. Monday's meeting will merely be the first time the registry is discussed. It begins at 4:30 at City Hall.
Ken Shelin, the author of the petition, tells WINK News he has also reached out to both Lee County and Fort Myers city leaders on the same issue.