Legislature passes 'everything but marriage' bill

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

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

"Our state is one that thrives on diversity," Gregoire 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 such partnerships to 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 Legislature.

Pedersen said it was important to give gay and lesbian families "greater certainty that they'll be entitled to the same respect and the same protection that we bestow on all families."

As of Wednesday, more than 5,000 domestic partnership registrations had been filed since July 2007.

Two Republicans voted for the bill, Reps. Norm Johnson of Yakima and Maureen Walsh of College Place. One Democrat voted against it, Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way.

Opponents said the measure will 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, which Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, spearheaded two years ago, 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.

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.

In a provision similar to California law, under the underlying law in this state, unmarried heterosexual senior couples also are eligible for domestic partnerships if one partner is at least 62. Lawmakers said that provision is needed to help seniors who are at risk of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry.

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.

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. Thirty states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.

The Washington state Legislature has passed a measure that would expand the state's domestic partnership law to include "everything but marriage." The bill would give additional spousal rights and benefits to domestic partners, including same-sex couples and unmarried senior heterosexual couples, in various areas of state law.

Among them:

-The right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner.

-The right to wages and benefits when a domestic partner is injured, and to unpaid wages upon the death of a domestic partner.

-The right to unemployment and disability insurance benefits.

-The right to workers' compensation coverage.

-Insurance rights, including rights under group policies, policy rights after the death of a domestic partner, conversion rights and continuing coverage rights.

-Rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.

-Business succession rights.

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The current domestic partnership law already addresses:

-Some public assistance provisions, such as access to state-funded domestic violence shelters.

-Rights and obligations for public officials' domestic partners to file public disclosure reports.

-Probate and trust laws.

-Guardianship and power of attorney issues.

-Judicial process and victim rights, including testimonial privileges that allow domestic partners the right to refuse to testify against each other in court.

-Dissolution, parenting plans and child support laws.

-Community property and other property rights and responsibilities.

-Homestead exemption laws.

-Health care facility visitation rights.

-Ability to grant consent for health care for a partner who is not competent. Health care providers can disclose patient information to the patient's partner.

-Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment.

-Right to control disposition of a deceased partner's remains, including right to make anatomical gifts, authorize autopsies and consent to remove partner's remains from a cemetery plot.

-Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without a will.

-Administration of an estate if the domestic partner dies without a will or if the named representative declines or is unable to serve.

-Making domestic partners beneficiaries of wrongful-death actions. Lawsuits for wrongful death could be brought on behalf of a surviving domestic partner.

-Requiring that information recorded on death certificates include domestic partnership status.