Orange County says it is ending its Domestic Partner Benefits Program next year now that same sex couples can legally marry in the State of Florida.

At the Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, the Domestic Partner Benefit program for Orange County employees was repealed.  The change will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

The county says the existing 11 Orange County employees who currently take advantage of the program with Medical or Dental or Vision coverage will be provided with a grace period until the end of  2016 to continue coverage using the domestic partner eligibility requirements.

Orange County’s Domestic Partner Benefits Program was approved in April, 2011 to give same sex couples who did not have the option to marry in the State of Florida the same benefits not available to opposite sex couples.  The program took effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The group Equality Florida called the move a mistake, and deputy director Stratton Pollitzer said the county was taking a "significant step backwards."

Pollitzer's full statement is below:

By eliminating domestic partner benefits, Orange County is taking a significant step backwards.

Even after the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, domestic partnership policies continue to provide tens of thousands of Florida couples, both gay and straight, with vital protections for their families. There is absolutely no reason to take away their benefits. Some couples do not marry for both personal and practical reasons, but these families are just as deserving of health insurance and other protections. It's only fair that two employees doing the same job receive the same benefits for their families.

Orange County was already behind the times in offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples only. The county should be expanding its domestic partner benefits to include both same-sex and opposite sex couples, as the vast majority of Florida municipalities. In fact more than two-thirds of registered domestic partners are opposite-sex couples.

Numerous studies also show that providing the option of domestic partner benefits is good for business. The costs are extremely low, averaging only about one percent of total benefits costs, and providing the benefits creates a significant, measurable increase in employee morale and productivity that more than makes up the expense. Which is why more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 employers offer domestic partner benefits.

By repealing these benefits, Orange County has put itself at a competitive disadvantage in employee recruitment and retention. Just last week, Broward County expanded its benefits. Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Alachua, Leon, and Monroe counties and many Florida cities provide domestic partner benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.