Washington State Considering Same-Sex Rights

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Same-sex domestic partners would have all
the rights and benefits that Washington state offers married
couples under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Legislature.

The Democratic-controlled House approved the Senate-passed
measure on a mostly party-line 62-35 vote after nearly two hours of
debate. It next goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said she will sign
it into law.

"Our state is one that thrives on diversity," Gregoire, a
Democrat, said in a statement. "We have to respect and protect all
of the families that make up our communities."

The bill expands on previous domestic partnership laws by adding
reference to partnerships alongside all remaining areas of state
law where currently only married couples are mentioned. The
statutes range from labor and employment rights to pensions and
other public employee benefits.

"This bill completes our work on domestic partnerships by
making sure that we state clearly our intention to treat domestic
partners in our state equally," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen,
D-Seattle, the bill's sponsor and one of six gay lawmakers in the

As of Wednesday, more than 5,200 domestic partnership
registrations had been filed since July 2007.

Opponents said the measure would have a detrimental effect on
traditional marriage.

"We cannot elevate the legal standing of domestic partnerships
to equate with marriage and not have profound impact on the status
of marriage in this state," said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie.

The underlying domestic partnership law provided hospital
visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ
donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Last year, lawmakers expanded that law to give domestic partners
standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property
and guardianship.

"We've made incredible movement in a short period of time,"
said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who spearheaded the law. "Marriage
equality for gay and lesbian families is not going to happen
tomorrow, but it will happen a lot sooner because of this bill."

Same-sex marriage bills have been introduced in the Legislature
before but have never had a public hearing. Murray said he expects
public hearings on the issue within the next two legislative

To be registered as partners, couples must share a home, must
not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else, and
be at least 18.

Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who leads the Positive Christian
Agenda, a state group of Christian organizations opposed to
same-sex marriage, said his group and others are weighing whether
to try to get enough signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn
the expanded measure.

Fuiten said he believes the law will have "severe
consequences" over time.

"We won't feel the impact as a society immediately, it's
gradual," he said. "But we're basically in the process of
destroying the family."

New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and
the District of Columbia have laws that either recognize civil
unions or domestic partnerships that afford same-sex couples
similar rights to marriage.

Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts have legalized gay
marriage. Same-sex marriage was legal in California for five months
until a state referendum to ban it passed last fall.

Bills to allow same-sex marriage are currently before lawmakers
in New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey.

Thirty states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.

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