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End Martial Status Discrimination

by former Florida State Representative
Tracy Stafford


There are many forms of families these days. The one-income household is no longer common. Even when children become adults and have jobs, they are staying with family members longer. Many of our seniors eventually move in with younger adult relatives. Adult brothers and sisters may make a home together for financial reasons.

Those real life situations have uncovered the fact that millions of unmarried Floridians are treated unequally under Florida law. Those unmarried adults who are in a committed relationship, partnership, or living arrangement face marital status discrimination on a daily basis. We have entered into a new area of prejudice and discrimination based not on who we are, but how we choose to live our lives. The surge of discrimination must end, which is why I decided to file a bill to move forward in the fight against bigotry.

The bill I am sponsoring (House Bill 29) and it's companion, which is sponsored by Senator Meek (Senate Bill 686) will give people who live in the same household with each other the opportunity to obtain dependent benefits from health care plans. This bill will allow an older parent living with a child, a young adult living at home, roommates, or committed same sex and opposite sex partners to be eligible for benefits. The same premium now required for dependents in traditional families would be charged for the additional person covered under this bill.

As we all know the lack of health care coverage for Floridians is a serious problem in this state. Without the ability to pay for medical care, people can experience the serious medical problems and
complications that come from failing to obtain care. Once these problems become emergencies, they are much more costly and are often paid for by the taxpayers. Without, health care coverage, people who do seek care can be financially ruined by the large debts they incur.

This bill insures that members of a "domestic partnership' would be permitted the same health care facility visitation privileges that immediate family members now have. People should not be denied access to their loved ones even if they are not directly related. Where would we all be in life without our network of friends, supporters, and people along the way who have held us up when we needed it. Especially in Florida, where so many people leave their families and move here to retire, go to school, or work. Sometimes, our greatest allies are not our blood relatives, but are those people who have chosen to make us a part of their family.

Eligibility for the above mentioned benefits is dependent upon both members entering into a "domestic partnership". Each person must agree to be responsible for the other's food and shelter, and must be at least 18 years of age. The partners must register with the state and ensure that they meet the outlined requirements. If either of the partners want to dissolve the arrangement, that partner must file notice with the state that they are terminating the partnership. Once a partnership is terminated, neither partner is allowed to register with another "domestic partnership" for at least 30 days.

At the beginning of the last century women fought for equality, respect, and the right to vote. People from every corner of this country fought hard for civil liberty and the rights of Americans of African descent, in the middle of the last century. Both of these struggles for equal rights continue into the present day. This century we enter a new struggle to eliminate bias based on marital status. While each of these struggles are separate in their own right, they each have common characteristics
that unite them together. Discrimination and prejudice should not be tolerated on any level or in any form.

The availability of health care, hospital visitation, and disability insurance should not be denied on the grounds of sexual orientation, family formation, or nontraditional relationships. Other state and local governments have passed similar legislation. The results have been positive. The Florida Legislature has the opportunity to ensure that none of our citizens are denied these fundamental rights and benefits.

                             March 24, 2000

Tracy Stafford formerly represented the city of Wilton Manors in the Florida House of Representatives (1990 - 2000).  He is also a member of the American Association for Single People and endorses our Human Rights Agenda for Unmarried America.

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