Equality Florida Focuses Efforts on Statewide Domestic Partnership Bill

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Equality Florida Lobby Days 2012 attendees sit in the Florida Senate Chambers and listen to trainers discuss lobby techniques.

For Nate Klarfeld, Equality Florida’s Lobby Days are the essence of being an American.

Equality Florida, a civil rights organization dedicated to supporting and promoting Florida’s LGBT community, wants to equip everyone with that power – through their annual Lobby Days on March 11 and 12.

This year, Equality Florida will be marching straight to the steps of the state capitol to encourage Florida representatives to vote in favor of the “Families First” bill.

A statewide initiative recently introduced by Broward County-based Senator Eleanor Sobel (D), the “Families First” bill would allow every Floridian domestic partnership rights and would extend legal protection to same-sex couples, including hospital visitation rights and the ability to make healthcare decisions for a partner.

For Klarfeld, an active member of Equality Florida and Chair of the Broward County Steering Committee, this bill hits home in double time.

“My partner’s daughter is a lesbian, my daughter-in-law, and she doesn't have any rights with her partner and their child. This hits us really deeply,” he said. “We are not only one gay family, we are two gay families.”

Currently, same-sex domestic partnership rights are only extended to citizens in Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Volusia County, Orange County, Gainesville, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Gulfport, Tampa and Sarasota.

“A majority of Americans support extending benefits to couples in domestic partnerships. We cannot allow Florida to be the last state to treat all of its citizens fairly and equally,” Senator Sobel said. “I am committed to sponsoring and fighting for this bill until it is heard, passed and signed by the governor.”

Florida residents will have the opportunity to confront the lawmakers face-to-face and generate a discussion. “Even if they say no, you get to have the last word,” Klarfeld said. “It’s very exciting.”

According to Equality Florida Public Policy Director Mallory Wells, South Florida is one of the regions in the state that is underrepresented in Tallahassee.

“Important South Florida voices are needed… it’s a region we lack,” she said. “A lot of our lawmakers come from South Florida, its worth the time and investment to make the state a better place.”

For rookie lobbyers, Equality Florida will provide lobby training and educate participants on the particulars of the bill so they’re well prepared to face their representatives.

In addition to the “Families First” bill, Lobby Days will focus on a statewide non-discrimination bill that would prohibit LGBT discrimination in employment and housing.

Klarfeld believes the in-person confrontation is what makes headway on these types of initiatives. “I was a face; I am a person to my representative. I am not a number,” he said. “We will be back every year until this passes.”

Lobby Days 2013 – how to participate

Who: Equality Florida

What: Equality Florida Lobby Days

Where: Tallahassee, Florida – State Capitol

When: March 11 – 12

Why: to advocate for the Families First bill

Equality Florida will organize transportation to Tallahassee for those interested and hotel room discounts. To RVSP for the event, please visit: http://eqfl.org/node/2214