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New 2008 domestic partnership bill headed to House, Senate
New 2008 domestic partnership bill headed to House, Senate
by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

[At press time, the Seattle Gay News was unable to interview Senator Ed Murray extensively. Murray is the co-sponsor of the 2008 domestic partnership bill and a long-time openly Gay legislator. Look for Murray's interview in next week's SGN as part of our continuing coverage.]

On Tuesday, January 22, a new domestic partnership bill was introduced to the Washington state Legislature at the state capitol building in Olympia, WA. The outdoor press conference explained how this year's legislation seeks to expand domestic partnership rights and responsibilities in the areas of financial security, primarily in jointly owned property and debts. It will integrate a selection of rights previously reserved for the married, including nursing home visitation, veterans' benefits, community property, probate and trust, guardianship and power of attorney.

The bill's proposed expansions also apply to the domestic partnership status granted to heterosexual cohabitating couples where one individual is over 62 years old.

The following day, the Seattle Gay News interviewed Rep. Jamie Pedersen about what the new bill included, the response it was garnering, and the merits of holding an outdoor press conference in January ("Not my decision," laughed Pedersen).

Documents from the state Legislature place the number of new rights added to domestic partnerships by the bill at 174, which leaves 283 existing rights off any current legislation. "We had to exercise our judgment about what to add," Pedersen explained. "Not being able to do everything this year, we tried to pick out the things we felt were most important for the largest number of people. Where last year we focused on health issues, this year we moved to the next order of magnitude down to deal with financial security issues."

Pedersen is confident the new bill has the numbers to pass. "The House bill has 59 co-sponsors and takes only 50 votes to pass, and the Senate bill has 26 co-sponsors and takes 25 to pass," he said. "Senator Murray and I have been in conversation with the governor for several months and she indicated that she will support the measure, as well," Pedersen said. "[House Speaker Frank] Chopp has also been very supportive."

Pedersen's approach is to pass this legislation incrementally, building on the successes of the previous year. "Probably 100 to 120 of the rights and obligations that we left out have to do with protections for state employees, like survivor benefits when a policeman is killed in the line of duty," he said. "It's not that we don't think those things are important; they are important and we hope to cover them in future years."

Pedersen is still wary of introducing a comprehensive measure due to opposition from across the aisle. Minority Leader Rep. Richard DeBolt "said he would not be supportive" of the new measure. "[Republicans] view it as a step toward marriage, and we've been very candid that we also view it as a step toward marriage," Pedersen said, laughing. "We don't have any disagreement about the facts, just about what that means & I don't know how loud the opposition will be, but I am an optimist, so I hold out hope we'll have more votes for the bill this year than we had last year."

Pedersen did not believe Republican candidate for governor Dino Rossi had any direct comment on the bill, but read an interview where "[Rossi] basically said the domestic partnership bill was the same thing as marriage, and he strongly opposed [Gay] marriage. It would be great to call him out&"

Pedersen challenged Rossi to name which rights and obligations domestic partners should be denied. "Should domestic partners get kicked out of their homes when a partner winds up in a nursing home?" he suggested. "I'd love to hear his answer."

Though the bill will assuredly face opposition, Pedersen is confident that the community will welcome the new measure. An October study by the University of Washington indicated "that something like 59-plus percent of people in Washington supported either marriage or what I'll call civil unions - everything but marriage," he said, "and another percentage, somewhere in the teens, supported extending same-sex couples some of the rights that went with marriage, but not all."

"I think it's not unfair to assume that somewhere from 60-75% of people in the state would be supportive of this," he concluded. "In the polling, there were only 22% that said they would oppose any recognition of same-sex relationships."

Pedersen, a first-year representative, is thankful for the political climate that has evolved under Sen. Ed Murray. "I think it's easier to do a bigger thing this year than it was to do a smaller thing last year," he said. "I think that, over time, as people hear more and more of the stories and understand more, they will become more sympathetic and more willing to go out on a limb."

Though all Seattle legislators are already co-sponsoring the bill, Pedersen warned against complacency. "It's important for people not just to stay silent. They need to be contacting their legislators and letting them know that this is an issue that is important to them," he urged. "I think it's important for people who are supportive of the rights movement to talk about that with their friends and neighbors."

Looking ahead, Pedersen said, "I think there's very little question that there's going to come a point at which we feel like we can move ahead with a real push forward on the marriage legislation. When that happens & we're going to have a real fight. The most important thing people can do is continue to tell their stories to their friends, neighbors and co-workers and make sure we have laid the groundwork so that, when we are able to pass the marriage bill down here and above chambers, we can defend against the challenges."

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