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SGN Exclusive: 700 couples in ERW local partnership survey
SGN Exclusive: 700 couples in ERW local partnership survey
Data of internal domestic partership survey released to SGN

by Andrew S. Kohler - Special to the SGN

Equal Rights Washington recently conducted an online survey to better understand who will be registering as domestic partners under the new domestic partnership registry. Starting July 23, couples can register in person at the office of the Secretary of State Olympia or by mail.

Washington is the eighth state in the nation to offer formal legal recognition to committed same-sex relationships. In addition, Oregon and New Hampshire have passed similar laws that will come into effect on January 1, 2008.

In addition to same-sex couples, the Washington domestic partnership registry is available to heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is over 62 years old.

Recently 700 individuals eligible to register with their partners under the new law, of which over 99% are in same-sex relationships, participated in an online survey conducted by Equal Rights Washington. The survey demonstrates great demand for the domestic partnership registry: over two-thirds (68.3%) of couples planning to register by the end of the year have been with their partners for over 5 years and 39.6% have been with their partners for at least ten years, and 34.1% of couples have children. 23.8% of respondents have previously entered into a legal marriage or civil union with their partner that is not recognized under Washington State law, and some have even gone through multiple attempts to have their relationships legally recognized. 9.6% percent of couples have at least one partner who was a veteran and 12.6% of reported that at least one partner was a member of a labor union.

The racial make-up of couples registering also reflected the state's diversity with 89.7% of respondents identifying as white or Caucasian as compared to 87.7% of the state generally. There was great religious diversity from among the respondents with a disproportionate number identifying as Jewish (3.6%) and Buddhist (4.1%), compared to the 1% of the general population that each group comprises. The plurality of persons registering (43%) identified with a branch of Christianity. 17.7% attend religious services regularly.

Although many of the protections provided by the registry are available through the drafting of legal instruments like wills, durable powers of attorney, and other documents, the survey founded that couples planning to register largely were not protected. Only 50.4% reported having a will and only 19.6% reported having a declaration of remains, the document that allows people to make burial decisions for their deceased partners. In addition to these legal safeguards, same-sex couples that register will also get protections never before available to them in Washington, such as the right to sue for wrongful death. Josh Friedes, ERW's Advocacy director, says that the survey shows that the domestic partnership registry will vastly increase the safety net for same-sex couples in our state. Friedes believes that it is much easier to educate people about the importance of registering as domestic partners than about the need for the piecemeal protections that were necessary prior to the availability of the registry. Still, Friedes says, the registry does not come close to approximating the rights of marriage; couples are still vulnerable and need to arrange their lives accordingly.

Of the 700 respondents 428 of intend to register as domestic partners by the end of the year. An additional 233 respondents indicated that they are considering registering but are unsure when they will do so. Of the 428 respondents planning to register in 2007, 227 intend to register on the first day that applications will be accepted, 74 at the Secretary of State's office in Olympia and 153 by mail. 102 plan to register after the first day, but during the first month applications will be accepted, and the remaining 99 plan to register after the first month but before the end of the year.

Perhaps the most significant statistic of the survey is that 40.9% of respondents have faced discrimination due to the denial of civil marriage rights. While the registry will not alleviate all the problems of marriage discrimination, the new domestic partnership registration will be a significant step forward for many LGBT couples, providing new legal protections even for those who already have sought legal advice and also making these protections more easily available.

While many respondents expressed their excitement at participating in a significant advancement for equality, a large majority emphasized their continued desire to attain full marriage equality. Whereas in other regions LGBT advocates have feared that domestic partnership or civil union laws will stultify the forward motion of the marriage equality movement, respondents overwhelmingly view the new law as a step forward toward full equality. Several respondents noted the importance of registering simply as a statement and for strength in numbers and to demonstrate how many couples have up until now been deprived of all the rights of marriage, and continue to be denied most of them.

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