Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs defends against criticism of her stance on domestic-parnership registry

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 11:02 PM

click to enlarge teresajpg

At about 8:30 p.m., Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs issued a statement via email regarding the recent controversy over her stance on a domestic-partnership registry for the county. See our story here for more info. In the meantime, here's her statement in full:
Dear Friends and Supporters,
I am writing to you directly rather than relying on a third party, due to inaccurate and misleading information circulating regarding my position on a domestic partner registry in Orange County.
Early last year, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community shared concerns that because they are not able to marry, they would be denied the right to have their loved ones at their bedside if they are incapacitated or dying in a hospital. I was surprised to learn this because I understood that individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, could execute a legally binding advanced healthcare directive affidavit (Section 765.101 Florida Statutes), power of attorney, or living will that assigned medical decisions to a friend or family member in the event they are incapacitated. As such, I thought that people could also designate, in advance, who could have family visitation rights at the hospital. The solution presented by a member of the LGBT community was to create a domestic partner registry. I was told this registry would allow domestic partners to make funeral arrangements, medical decisions, be contacted in the event of an emergency, and participate in their partner's children's educational setting. I firmly believe that if individuals place their trust in another to advocate or make decisions for them in case they are incapacitated, their wishes should be honored. I also believe that everyone should be able to choose who is at their bedside if they are hospitalized and who can make funeral arrangements and decisions in the event of their death. In response to this concern, I committed to evaluate the merits of creating an Orange County domestic partner registry and to bring this issue to the Board of County Commissioners for a discussion. I have never wavered from that commitment. However, at no time did I commit to support such a registry, nor would I ever make such a commitment without fully researching this complex issue. Although my thoroughness is often criticized by those who seek immediate action, I believe it is one of the reasons the voters overwhelmingly elected me to this position. I am currently engaging stakeholders such as hospitals, funeral homes and schools to better understand their current processes to ensure that any mechanism we create will be honored. Although this issue is still under careful and thoughtful evaluation, I'm strongly inclined to expand the protections or the scope of a registry, should our Board agree to adopt one, to include widows, widowers and other people who may wish to designate someone other than a relative, as currently defined by law, to make such decisions for them. Now, please allow me to separate the myths from the truth regarding my position on this issue. Myth #1: Mayor Jacobs has either "reneged on her promise" or has "changed her mind" regarding her support for a domestic partner registry in Orange County. Truth: This statement is a direct attack on my integrity and is categorically false. I am keeping my promise to bring the domestic partner registry to the Board for discussion. I remain committed to completing my due diligence and examining the scope of any government action and its possible legal and financial ramifications. Myth #2: Mayor Jacobs has met with anti-gay activists and is following their plan to "kill" a domestic partnership registry. Truth: Absolutely untrue. I have never met with or solicited advice from any anti-gay activists or groups and I unequivocally refute any lie about a secret plan to "kill" a domestic partnership registry. Myth #3: Mayor Jacobs is delaying, or "dragging her feet," on the process to enact a domestic partner registry. Truth: This is simply untrue. The City of Orlando delivered its domestic partnership registry draft ordinance to Orange County staff on October 25, 2011. At that time the Orange County Attorney's office was tasked with reviewing the proposal. After my first briefing with our legal team in December, there were still several outstanding issues to research and carefully consider. Myth #4: An affidavit is nothing more than a worthless piece of paper. Truth: An affidavit is a legal document, recognized by the courts, which among other things, can be used to establish the appropriateness of a person to make decisions for someone else.  The Federal Department of Health and Human Services has issued a rule requiring all Medicaid eligible hospitals to honor the visitation rights requested in an advance directive (a type of affidavit), an affidavit acknowledging a committed relationship, or other written documentation by the patient. Myth #5: Mayor Jacobs has ruled out a domestic partner registry. Truth: I continue to research the issues surrounding such a registry, but I'm strongly inclined to expand the scope of our registry to include widows, widowers and couples in relationships who do not live together. Again, I am moving forward with my due diligence and will bring the matter to the Board for discussion in the coming months when I have all the information necessary to make an informed and responsible decision. Sincerely,
Mayor Teresa Jacobs' signature
Teresa Jacobs
Orange County Mayor

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