Gregoire expands same-sex partnerships
Gov. Chris Gregoire has approved a measure that gives same-sex domestic partners all the rights and benefits that Washington state offers married couples.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Surrounded by about 300 people — most of them gay and lesbian couples and their children — Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday signed legislation giving registered same-sex domestic partners all the rights and benefits that Washington now offers married couples.
The law will take effect July 26 unless opponents seeking to repeal it can collect enough signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot.
A network of conservative and religious organizations, through a public action committee called Protect Marriage Washington, plans to begin collecting signatures to repeal the measure under Referendum 71. However, they have to wait a full week to see if someone challenges the referendum's ballot title in court.
They will then have about 60 days — until July 25 — to collect 120,577 signatures. If they are successful, the law would be suspended until voters decide the referendum.
Several gay-rights advocacy groups, through a campaign called Decline 2 Sign, are seeking to raise money to turn back the challenge.
The bill signing by Gregoire at Seattle's Montlake Community Center was a festive event, marking a significant milestone for the state's same-sex couples.
The legislation expands on previous domestic-partnership laws by adding such partnerships to all remaining areas of state law that now address only married couples.
The measure also extends coverage to unmarried heterosexual couples when one person is at least 62.
As of Monday, there were 5,395 registered domestic partners, representing every county in the state.
The signing comes three years after the state Supreme Court ruled against 11 gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry in Washington and upheld the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that limits marriage to one man and one woman.
Charlene Strong, a Seattle woman who was instrumental in the initial push for changes in the law after her partner drowned in the flooded basement of their Madison Valley home, said while she is thrilled with the advancements, she's eager for the next step: reversal of DOMA.
"It is important for us to sit and talk to those who oppose us," Strong said. "We need them to hear us, to meet our families . They speak from a place of fear. We need them to speak from a place of understanding."
Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, which is leading the campaign to repeal the measure, wondered aloud whether there was a concerted effort on Gregoire's part to delay the signing to give opponents a shorter time to collect signatures.
He plans to move forward with the referendum, he said, because he believes it's the right thing to do to prevent gay-rights supporters from taking the next step and pushing for gay marriage in this state.
The institution of marriage might not be perfect, he said, "but that's no reason to redefine it."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published May 18, 2009, was corrected the same day. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Faith and Freedom Foundation plans to begin collecting signatures to repeal the measure. The correct name of the group is the Faith and Freedom Network.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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