OLYMPIA, WASH. (AP) - Same-sex domestic partners would have all the rights and benefits that Washington state offers married couples under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Legislature.
The Democratic-controlled House approved the Senate-passed measure on a mostly party-line 62-35 vote after nearly two hours of debate. It next goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said she will sign it into law.
“Our state is one that thrives on diversity,” Gregoire, a Democrat, 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 reference to partnerships alongside 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.
As of Wednesday, more than 5,200 domestic partnership registrations had been filed since July 2007.
Opponents said the measure would 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 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.
“We’ve made incredible movement in a short period of time,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who spearheaded the law. “Marriage equality for gay and lesbian families is not going to happen tomorrow, but it will happen a lot sooner because of this bill.”
Same-sex marriage bills have been introduced in the Legislature before but have never had a public hearing. Murray said he expects public hearings on the issue within the next two legislative sessions.
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.
Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who leads the Positive Christian Agenda, a state group of Christian organizations opposed to same-sex marriage, said his group and others are weighing whether to try to get enough signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the expanded measure.
Fuiten said he believes the law will have “severe consequences” over time.
“We won’t feel the impact as a society immediately, it’s gradual,” he said. “But we’re basically in the process of destroying the family.”
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.
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.
Thirty states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.