Lawmakers hope to expand domestic partnership law
State lawmakers are looking to expand the law by granting same-sex couples more than 170 of the benefits and responsibilities given to married couples.
The Associated Press
Lawmakers seek expanded domestic partnership rights
Washington state lawmakers are considering a measure that would expand the state's domestic partnership program. 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:
— Some public assistance provisions, such as access to state-funded domestic violence shelters.
— Rights for residents in long-term care facilities or nursing homes.
— 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.
— Rights afforded to spouses of veterans, such as relief programs for partners of indigent veterans' burial rights, and access to free copies of various certified documents.
Current rights granted to registered domestic partners include:
— 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.
— Automatic revocation of a domestic partner as the beneficiary for nonprobate assets if the partnership ends.
— Automatic revocation of power of attorney granted to a domestic partner if the partnership ends.
— 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.
Two individuals seeking to enter into a state-registered domestic partnership must:
— Share a residence.
— Be at least 18 years old.
— Be unmarried and not already in a state-registered domestic partnership with somebody else.
— Be capable of consenting to the partnership.
— Not be nearer of kin than second cousins nor be a sibling, child, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew to the other person.
— Be members of the same gender, or one of the persons must be at least 62 years of age.
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers are looking to expand the state's domestic-partnership law by granting same-sex couples more than 170 of the benefits and responsibilities given to married couples, including property and guardianship rights.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who sponsored the original domestic-partnership measure last year, is sponsoring the expansion bill in the Senate this year; Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is sponsoring the measure in the House.
A news conference to announce the bill was planned today on the Capitol campus.
"It's a significant piece of legislation, but it still leaves hundreds of rights and benefits and responsibilities of marriage out," Murray said.
The 199-page bill makes several changes to state law, including requiring domestic partners of public officials to submit financial-disclosure forms, just as the spouses of heterosexual officials do.
The measure would give domestic partners the same spousal testimony rights that married couples have, allowing domestic partners the right to refuse to testify against each other in court.
The bill also adds domestic partners to sections where previously only spouses were mentioned, including sections about probate and trusts, community property and homestead exemptions, and guardianship and powers of attorney.
"The overriding theme for this package is the financial security of domestic partners and their families," Pedersen said. "A lot of this is tied to letting people organize their affairs so they are secure financially."
The process of ending domestic partnerships also would be changed, allowing the secretary of state to end partnerships only in the first five years, with several more restrictions relating to children, real property or unpaid debts.
All other partnerships would be dissolved in superior court — similar to conventional divorce.
The underlying domestic-partnership law already provides hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.
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, unmarried heterosexual senior couples also are eligible for domestic partnerships if one partner is at least 62. Lawmakers said that provision was included to help seniors who are at risk of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry.
As of Friday, 3,246 domestic-partnership registrations had been filed since the law took effect last July, and three partnerships have been dissolved, according to the secretary of state's office.
"They're in every district in the state," Pedersen said. "Those are real people that every legislator can put a face on."
Murray and Pedersen, two of the Legislature's five openly gay lawmakers, said they had the support of Democratic leadership for the measure. And while Gov. Christine Gregoire hasn't yet seen the bill, she is supportive of expanding the domestic-partnership law, spokesman Aaron Toso said.
Some opponents have argued that the domestic partnerships dilute traditional marriage; others have said the original law was unnecessary because most of the rights being offered could be acquired by legal contract.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who voted against the original bill, said this year's expansion attempt is no surprise, since supporters said last year that they would introduce new rights every year. "Certainly the proponents have been honest about what their goals are," he said.
Murray spearheaded a gay-civil-rights bill that became law last spring after nearly 30 years of failure in the Legislature.
That measure added sexual orientation to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit on the basis of such characteristics as race and religion.
Supporters acknowledge that full gay marriage is their ultimate goal but say they don't want to rush the state into taking that step.
"If you just have a debate around the word 'marriage' it's harder to do than if you break out individual parts of it and have a long discussion," Murray said. "Because really, the culture is changing, and the politics has to catch up with the culture."
The state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision in 2006, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and a woman.
Murray said gay-rights supporters will come back every year to introduce new rights until eventually they get to marriage.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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