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SAVE's Heddy Peña: 'We built the building blocks. Then we were able to go in pretty confident today.'


SAVE Executive Director Heddy Peña and I spoke Tuesday afternoon, after the Miami-Dade Commission voted to give domestic-partner benefits. Here's Peña's account of how the new law came to be:

"The firefighters president called me and we got together. The union wanted domestic-partner benefits. There's a high incidence of divorce among firefighters. They sometimes start new families and they had no way to insure the mothers of their children.

They asked for my support and I started lobbying commissioners, starting with the more supportive commissioners. (Katy Sorenson, Sally Heyman and then-Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler.)

We lobbied the Miami Beach commissioners to start a Miami Beach registry. They did that in 2004.

We also realized it would be helpful to have the support of the business community. We went to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and worked through their health committee. We produced a domestic-partners handbook. It was all part of our strategy."

In 2005, the chamber mailed 5,500 businesses the A Guide to Domestic Partner Insurance Coverage.

SAVE then reapproached the Miami-Dade Commission, Peña said.

"We were able, over a period of time, to get six co-sponsors. Then, [Commission Chairman] Bruno Barreiro agreed to be its sponsor. Katy was originally supposed to be the sponsor, be we agreed the chairman was  more powerful sponsor."

It took a few more months to bring the item to the commission, she said.

"We didn't have all the people in attendance at every meeting until February. Around December, January, Bruno was campaigning for Mitt Romney. It didn't come to first reading until February.

We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We had union support. The SEIU, they were the second ones onboard after the firefighters.

We built the building blocks. Then we were able to go in pretty confident today.

We knew we didn't have the most liberal county commission. we had to proceed prudently bringing in as many people onboard as possible, so when the vote finally took place, a lot of people were represented on our side of the aisle."

Peña knows the fight is not over. In November, Florida voters will decide whether to place a ban on gay marriage (and domestic partnerships) into the state constitution:

"Amendment 2 -- that's the cloud over all of this. We're facing an amendment that can undo all the domestic partner registries."


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