A bill that would allow Floridians to enter into "domestic partnerships" resembling marriages was filed Wednesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, in an apparent effort to extend at least some marital benefits to same-sex couples.
While the legislation specifically states it is not an attempt to do an end-run around a provision in the Florida Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it would allow gay Floridians to get some rights approaching marriage. Any two people who are at least 18 years old would be allowed to establish a domestic partnership under the law.
"The state has a strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families, and believes that all families should be provided with the opportunity to obtain necessary legal protections and status and the ability to achieve their fullest potential," the bill says in a section of legislative findings.
Sobel, who has filed similar legislation in previous sessions, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The legislation is not new, but the current version (SB 196) comes amid new focus on the issue of gay marriage. President Barack Obama endorsed allowing same-sex couples to marry last year before winning Florida in his re-election bid, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue in a pair of cases set for oral arguments in March.
Two openly gay lawmakers were elected to the Legislature last fall, marking the first time anyone who was openly gay had ever won a seat.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council -- a group opposed to same-sex marriage -- said similar domestic partnership bills had been used in other parts of the nation to help in court fights aimed at legalizing gay unions. And he said domestic partnership proposals were aimed at avoiding the state's legal definition of marriage.
"They're attempts to get around (the Constitution) and approximate a faux marriage arrangement," he said.
But Stemberger also predicted that sponsors were unlikely to push the bill far in a Legislature dominated by Republicans, many of whom are cool to the idea of same-sex marriage.
"I think they're lucky if they get it debated," he said.