'After 491/2 years, it's official'
A gay couple is the first to enter West Palm's new domestic partner registry.

Stephen Deere
staff writer

February 26, 2005 - WEST PALM BEACH Decades ago when they first met, they never would have guessed this day would come.

And when the moment finally arrived on Friday afternoon, it lacked ceremony. They were just two men, both in their late 60s, turning away from a counter at the West Palm Beach City Clerk's Office.

One wore a priest's collar and walked with a cane. The other made the triumphant announcement.

"After 491/2 years, it's official," Robert Pingpank said.

With that, Pingpank, a retired schoolteacher, and Richard Nolan, a retired Episcopal priest, became the first couple to register on West Palm Beach's domestic partner registry.

"This is the first legal document we have that says we're connected," said Nolan, the retired priest in residence at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Lake Worth.

City commissioners unanimously approved the domestic partner registry ordinance on Valentine's Day, saying that the registry would not only benefit gay couples but any couple living together that has not married.

The registry allows partners to have the same hospital visitation rights as married couples, make medical decisions if one becomes incapacitated, decide funeral and burial arrangements, be notified during emergencies, and become a guardian should the partner be incapacitated.

The city's registry has no residency requirement, but applies only within the city's jurisdiction.

Nolan and Pingpank live in Greenacres but spend a lot of time in West Palm Beach, they said.

They met in 1955 at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., when homosexuals could easily lose their jobs because of their sexual orientation. For many years, they hid their relationship.

"We hid to a fairly substantial degree right up until we retired 11 years ago," Pingpank said.

Both men's parents never verbally acknowledged that they were a gay couple, they said.

The registry will be helpful, but they noted it is far short of marriage. Gays are shut out of hundreds of benefits that married couples enjoy, Nolan said.

Still, he said, society has made much progress in its acceptance of gays.

Being able to register "is an incredible reversal for us," Nolan said.

Stephen Deere can be reached at scdeere@sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-1647.
Copyright 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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