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Originally published October 26, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Page modified October 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM

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Gay-marriage mailer misleads on senior domestic partnerships

A mailer sent to senior citizens states that by voting for the state's same-sex marriage measure they also will be voting to preserve domestic partnerships for seniors. In reality, domestic partnerships for seniors will remain in place whether Referendum 74 passes or fails.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Claim: A campaign mailer sent to senior citizens in Washington said that approving Referendum 74 will allow any seniors age 62 or older to have a domestic partnership if marrying would cause them to lose their retirement or other benefits.

The mailer also said that by voting to approve Ref. 74, "you will vote to preserve domestic partnerships for seniors" and ensure that all loving and committed couples have the freedom to marry.

What we found: Half true. Whether it's approved or rejected by voters, the same-sex-marriage bill passed by the Legislature, signed by the governor in February and now before voters as Ref. 74, will have no bearing on domestic partnerships for senior couples.

Campaign officials with Washington United for Marriage, which supports same-sex marriage and sent the mailer, said it was intended to clear up confusion about how the new law would affect seniors who are eligible for state domestic-partnerships benefits.

They point out that phrasing in their mailer is consistent with ballot language for Ref. 74. In fact, the ballot title, written by a Thurston County Superior Court judge, is printed on the mailer and reads in part: "This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors. ... "

That was likely done to convey that domestic partnerships would continue to exist only for seniors — but not for younger gay couples.

But the mailer is misleading in posing the question: "Why vote approve," and then answering it by saying "you'll be voting to preserve domestic partnerships." It suggests that the flip side is also true, that voting to reject Ref. 74 would end such partnerships for seniors — which is not true.

Campaign officials stand by the wording: "The law takes it away for some and allows it for others," said David Ward, an attorney for Legal Voice who works with Washington United for Marriage.

Senior couples, where at least one person is 62, were included in the state's domestic-partnership law from its inception five years ago because for some seniors, remarrying would result in the loss of certain kinds of benefits, such as pension and military.

Under Ref. 74, same-sex couples under 62 who haven't dissolved their partnerships would be required to convert to marriage by June 30, 2014, or the state would do it for them.

But whether the same-sex-marriage law passes or not, senior couples — both straight and gay — would continue to be eligible for domestic partnerships.

Zach Silk, campaign manager, said in a statement: "It is not intuitive or self-evident why we need to 'preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors' — and so we put together this very straightforward, fact-based mailer."

In a statement, Preserve Marriage Washington, the campaign against gay marriage, said the mailer was meant to mislead seniors.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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