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Volume 35
Issue 15
 
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Victory! - Domestic partnership legislation heads to governor's desk
Victory! - Domestic partnership legislation heads to governor's desk
Bill to extend certain rights to same-sex couples likely to become law

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington State House of Representatives voted 63-35 on Tuesday evening to adopt legislation that would extend certain rights and privileges to same-sex couples and senior citizens once reserved only for heterosexual married couples. The measure now goes to the desk of Governor Christine Gregoire, who has said she would sign the bill into law.

"I am really excited that we have protections for my family, but also my constituents and families all across the state. It is a landmark day," said openly-Gay State Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) from the floor of the House shortly after the vote. The bill would extend, among other rights, the right of a person to visit a partner in the hospital; make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner; make funeral arrangements; and attain inheritance rights in the absence of a will.

Pedersen, who is also an attorney, said the legislation is "much needed and necessary," because of rights and protections the legislation would provide. "Over the last few years, we have seen a lot of cases come up in the courts about people who have died without wills; partners who have had problems because they died without making arrangement for their kids or property," he said. "This is going to start to address some of those issues and it is going to make it a lot easier for, particularly, people who don't have a lot of money to pay lawyers to draft complicated documents.

"I think we are going to have fewer of those claims as people get to know the registry and people seek basic protections for their families."

SB 5336 would also create a central state registry of domestic partnerships at the Secretary of State's office. Same-sex couples and senior citizens over the age of 62 must file an affidavit of domestic partnership and pay a fee to qualify. The vote comes only a year after the Washington State Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, upheld a law that bars same-sex couples from marriage and only months after five openly Gay legislators announced their intention to introduce domestic partnership legislation.

"It has been a great team effort and I am very grateful for all the work the other four have done," added Pedersen. "To start out with this just a few months ago and get it through both the House and Senate is a real testament to the fact that there are five of us now; supported obviously by many collogues. But, there are five us with whom this is a high priority."

The bill's primary sponsor in the state Senate and second openly Gay man to serve in that body, Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, agreed. "It helped to have members in both houses this time and we all worked very closely together," he told the SGN on Tuesday.

Republians offered up several amendments, one calling for a public vote while another requested that the legislation include additional family members. Only three Republicans joined Democrats in a show of bipartisan support for the measure. Reps. Shirley Hankins (R-Richland), Fred Jarrett (R-Mercer Island) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) voted to adopt the legislation.

State Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines) chided the majority of Republicans who voted against the measure. "They already voted against fair treatment of gay and lesbian families and now they are busy trying to explain to their constituents why they aren't really as mean-spirited as their voting records indicate," he said. "It seems that the Republicans in Olympia this year are doing everything they can to ensure that they stay in the minority and continue to lose suburban seats to Democrats." Pedersen said he spoke with several Republicans who privately supported the bill, but claimed their constituents did not. He predicted that they would one day regret their decision.

During floor debate, Republicans said they believed the measure might weaken families and threaten the "institution of marriage." "This is a step, just as the civil rights bill last year, was a step. The next step is to solidify the domestic partnership relationship in a marriage contract," said Rep. Lynn Schindler (R-Spokane Valley). "Therefore I beg of you to think very seriously about the road we are going to be going down and how we are going to be changing the civilization we live in."

While the bills primary sponsors reject such claims, they acknowledge that marriage is the ultimate goal.

"It's time to get to work on the next bill and the bill after that until we accomplish full marriage equality," said Murray.

Likewise, Upthegrove said the passage of the measure is "an exciting step forward to provide some basic protections while we continue to work toward marriage equality." The threat of a referendum was a real possibility, acknowledged the lawmakers who spoke with the SGN on Tuesday. "There will be an attempt to put a referendum on the ballot and then try to defeat the law. Yeah. I think some groups will try to do that," said Pedersen. Murray said that should there be a referendum, that "as a community, we will be ready for it."

Upthegrove warned Republicans that a referendum could hurt them at the ballot box. "There is strong public support for providing these basic fair protections, so, I have no doubt that any attempt to repeal the law would be a big flop," he said. "Republicans know they are on the wrong side of the public on this issue, so suburban Republican legislators will be hammered if there is a referendum battle."

A conservative religious organization, the Faith & Freedom Network, has announced plans to unseat lawmakers who supported the measure. On their website, they complain that an "emboldened, liberal, secularist majority is consistently moving further and further to the left, promoting and advancing a gay rights agenda..." Bob Higley of Positive Christian Alliance told The Olympian before the vote on Tuesday that he was "not aware of any follow-up activity like a referendum or an initiative" that could overturn the legislation.

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