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Gimenez, Robaina debate, split over domestic partner benefits for Miami-Dade County employees

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI, pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

It took three months to get there, but Miami-Dade mayoral candidates Carlos Gimenez and Julio Robaina on Friday hit on one of their strongest policy differences yet — over employee benefits for domestic partners.

In the last debate of the campaign, Robaina said he would likely support any move by county commissioners to repeal benefits currently offered by the county, which allows its unmarried employees to buy health insurance for their partners, and for the couples to visit each other in jail and in the hospital.

Gimenez said he would veto an effort to strike down those benefits.

The clear-cut disagreement was striking because it came just five days before Tuesday’s runoff election, after weeks of campaigning and a slew of forums and debates that had covered a gamut of county issues.

On Friday, the Christian Family Coalition endorsed Robaina — prompting WFOR-CBS 4 investigative reporter Jim DeFede, who moderated Friday’s half-hour-long debate, to ask the domestic-partnerships question.

County commissioners signed off on the benefits for unmarried couples three years ago, though not without opposition from the dais and from outside groups, including a coalition of religious leaders.

“The law is the law, and it’s there,” Robaina said, the former Hialeah mayor. “We’re not here to remove that.”

When pressed, he added that he would probably favor repealing the law if the initiative came from commissioners.

Gimenez, a former county commissioner, said he voted for the benefits and would oppose doing away with them.

“I will exercise my veto and veto it,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

The two men, both Cuban-American Republicans seeking the non-partisan mayor’s post, said marriage should be between a man and a woman. DeFede then asked the candidates if sexual orientation is a choice.

Surprised by the question, Gimenez initially stammered and then recovered. “People are just people,” he said. “People are what they are.”

“Listen,” responded Robaina, “I’m not here to determine people’s sexual preference.”

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