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'Til Death Do Us Part...

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Detert and several of the committee’s Republicans indicated that they might support more watered-down legislation.

So Meeks and Equality Florida began redrafting the legislation with state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who has sponsored a domestic-partnership bill each of the last five legislative sessions. This year marked the first time she’s even received a hearing. The new proposal mirrored the domestic-partnership ordinances that exist in some cities and counties, like Orlando and Orange County.

A new hearing was scheduled for March 12. I was asked to testify. So, too, was Janice Langbehn, who had flown in from Washington State. In 2007, while vacationing in Florida with her partner, Lisa, and their kids, Lisa collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with a brain aneurysm. She was declared brain-dead. Despite having a durable power of attorney and living will, Langbehn and the kids were not allowed into Lisa’s room – at least not until Lisa’s sister arrived and arranged for a 10-minute visit. Langbehn sued the hospital, but the case was dismissed. Her story led President Barack Obama to sign an executive order requiring federally funded hospitals to allow visitation by domestic partners. Without a registry, however, enforcement is moot.

I arrived in Tallahassee that morning, testimony in hand. While at lunch, I received a text message from Meeks’ wife (they legally married in another state), Vicki Nantz. There was a problem. State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, a key supporter, had fallen ill. I rushed to the Capitol to convene with Equality Florida.

We assembled in the committee room. There was still hope that Thompson might show, if only briefly, to cast her vote, but behind the scenes the word was that “we didn’t have the votes,” regardless. Right at 2 p.m., Sobel announced that the bill was postponed again. (“If you don’t have the votes, you don’t have a bill,” I overheard her say while waiting for the elevator.)

Outside in the lobby, John Stemberger beamed. He had “defeated” the bill, he boasted.

The committee eventually rescheduled the hearing for April 1, and Meeks asked me to email my written testimony to the committee’s senators. A few hours before the hearing, Equality Florida published my remarks, which spread rapidly across the Internet. In the end, the bill passed 5-4, though SB 196 probably won’t make it through its four other assigned committees by the end of this session.

It was a symbolic victory for equality, though – one that I was proud to play a small part in. It’s been a year of small victories, after all.

There’s a part of me that wishes I’d been able to look them in the eyes and tell them in person – to tell the entire legislature, as well as those who would diminish my relationship with Alan because of their ignorance or bigotry or religion – how incredibly fortunate I’d been.

See, I knew my rights and had attorneys looking out for me. But since Alan died, I’ve spoken with several members of the LGBT community who, when their partner died, lost everything. And that could have been me. My name wasn’t on the deed to the house Alan and I lived in. I didn’t have a right to anything in Alan’s name – our savings, his inheritance, not even our cars. I could have been homeless and destitute. And even with all these advantages, I still forfeited some of what I was entitled to because the fighting was just too hard.

This bill, even as small a step as it is, would fix that. It can save people from suffering what I went through during the worst time of my life.

We need to stop lying to ourselves.

Billy Manes is senior staff writer at Orlando Weekly, where this story first appeared.

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