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Originally published February 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 15, 2008 at 8:02 PM

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House passes domestic partnership expansion bill

The House on Friday passed a measure to expand the state's domestic partnership law by granting same-sex couples more than 170 of the benefits...

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The House on Friday passed a measure 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.

The bill passed on a 62-32 vote after very little debate, and now goes to the Senate.

The measure adds domestic partners to sections of laws where previously only spouses were mentioned, including areas referring to probate and trusts, community property and homestead exemptions, and guardianship and powers of attorney.

The underlying domestic partnership law, passed last year, already provides hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, sponsor of the bill, said the measure is the "next step" to provide financial security for all families in the state.

"Rarely do we have an opportunity in our work here to help so many people without spending a dime," he said.

The measure makes dozens of changes to state law, including requiring domestic partners of public officials to submit financial disclosure forms, just as the spouses of heterosexual officials do.

It also 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.

Opponents argued that expanding the current law dilutes traditional marriage.

"This measure will have a negative impact on our families, it will have a negative impact on the Defense of Marriage Act and a negative impact on society," said Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic.

Lawmakers rejected two amendments, including one that would have required the measure to be approved by voters.

Under the measure, the process of ending a domestic partnership 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.

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All other partnerships would be dissolved in superior court — similar to conventional divorce.

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.

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