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Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - Page updated at 07:18 PM

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Gregoire signs law expanding WA domestic partner benefits

Associated Press Writer

Domestic partners will be granted more than 170 of the benefits and responsibilities given to married couples under a measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

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.

"This bill is about protecting and helping Washington families," Gregoire said before signing the bill. "It simply gives these families the same rights as everybody else. It's the right thing to do."

The law takes effect on June 12.

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.

More than 3,500 couples have registered as domestic partners since the law took effect last year.

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.

"Domestic partners still lack the vast majority of the protections that married couples take for granted in Washington state," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle and sponsor of the measure. He said the new law is the "next step in addressing that injustice."

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.

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.

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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.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who sponsored the original domestic partnership measure last year, said that the expansion of rights was "a sign of hope to gay and lesbian families across this state that one day we will receive the full recognition that our relationships deserve."

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The domestic partnership bill is House Bill 3104.

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On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

Governor: http://www.governor.wa.gov

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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