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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 13, 2007

Washington state passes a domestic partner law

Olympia, Wash.--A year after passing a non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, the state legislature has passed a domestic partner bill that includes many of the rights and privileges granted with marriage.

The Washington House’s April 10 vote, 63-35, gave an almost two-to-one approval for the measure, which already passed the Senate 28-19 on March 1. Gov. Chris Gregoire has indicated that she will sign the bill when it hits her desk, and it will take effect 90 days afterward.

The measure falls short of the civil union laws in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey, and a partner law in California, which apply all the state effects of marriage to same-sex couples without the word itself.

Maine and Hawaii have similar measures to Washington’s, which will grant hospital visitation rights, medical decision-making ability, automatic revocation of power of attorney and beneficiary status from a domestic partner if the relationship is dissolved and the ability to authorize autopsies.

Other rights include inheritance rights if one partner dies intestate, the ability to sue for wrongful death and the right to control the disposition of remains.

Couples would have to share a home, be over 18, not already married or in another domestic partnership, and not more closely related than second cousins. The law sets a maximum fee of $50 to register a domestic partnership.

Domestic partnerships are limited, for the most part, to same-sex couples. Like Califonia’s law, opposite-sex couples may enter a partnership if one or both are over 62 years old. Often, seniors do not want to remarry because their Social Security benefits may be penalized, or because they will lose pension benefits from a deceased spouse.

The measure’s backers are clear that they hope to eventually expand the measure to full marriage. A bill to do just that, introduced in January with the domestic partner one, went nowhere.

“It’s a really important first step in providing some first protections for same-sex couples and their families as well as senior citizens who haven’t married and can’t afford to do so for various reasons,” lesbian State Rep. Jamie Pederson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Washington has a “defense of marriage” law that passed in 1998, but it does not have a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, much less institutions like domestic partnerships. Ohio’s constitutional amendment bars same-sex marriage and other constructs that intend “to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”

Oregon measure also advances

In Washington’s neighbor to the south, Oregon, the House of Representatives took action on a much broader bill on the same day.

The House Rules Committee changed their civil union legislation, altering the name of the construct to “domestic partnerships,” much like California has done.

However, unlike Washington’s measure, Oregon’s would carry most of the legal weight at the state level of marriage.

The Rules Committee approved the bill, sending it to the full House after changing the name of the relationship.

Two years ago, the state Senate approved a civil union law, but it never came to a vote in the House.

This year’s measure is accompanied by a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Oregon’s equal rights law. That measure has already passed the Senate.

New Hampshire is also considering a civil union bill, which it calls “spousal unions.”



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