Tavares hopes to create domestic partner registry

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TAVARES, Fla. - The city of Tavares wants to be the first in Lake County to create a domestic partner registry, and it wants to model it after Orlando's registry.

City officials can't say how many people living there would be eligible for the registry, but WFTV learned those who want to sign up don't have to live in Tavares.

Rodger Kooser and his partner have been together since 1986, and like some traditional married couples, they live together and even run several businesses together in downtown Tavares.

But if Kooser gets sick and ends up in Waterman Hospital, his partner has no legal rights to plan what happens next.

"Now, with this domestic partnership, you have the right to say, 'I am the person speaking for him,' and that's huge," said Kooser.

Registry officials working on the draft want to mirror the one first developed a year ago by the city of Orlando.

Partners, gay or straight, would pay to be in a public database run by the city clerk. So far, more than 700 couples have signed up, and within city limits, domestic partners get the same legal rights as married couples when it comes to health care, child care and burial rights.

But resident Rick Pace said he worries some straight couples may use the registry to get benefits he believes people should only get if they commit to marriage.

"You and I, we have an alternative to get married and make it legal, where gay people don't," Pace said.

Councilwoman Lori Pfister voted to craft the ordinance. She hopes if Tavares leads the way, other Lake County communities will follow.

"Times are changing, and you have to change along with the times, or you get left behind," she said.

Officials said there will be a nominal fee to sign up, but they're still working to determine how much it'll cost to manage.

The council expects to see a draft ordinance by early next year.