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Gregoire signs domestic partnership measure into law
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — In their minds, Carol McKinley and Barbara Gibson have been married since a 2001 ceremony at their church. Now, under a measure signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire today, they'll get some of the rights that come with matrimony.
The new law creates a domestic partnership registry with the state, and will provide enhanced rights for same-sex couples, including hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will.
"It's important not only legally, but symbolically," said McKinley, a 67-year-old retired state worker and a Unitarian Universalist minister. "Our relationship matters."
To be registered, couples must share a home, 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 are also 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.
"This simply allows our seniors and our same-sex partners to rely on each other and to care for each other when they are faced with life and death situations," Gregoire said before signing the measure. "These are the rights of all Washingtonians."
The new law will take effect July 22. Couples can either register with the Secretary of State in Olympia, or download the form from the Web site and send it in to register and receive a certificate of the partnership.
"This means we have that legal access," McKinley said. "We feel we have that spiritual and community support, we've never doubted that. But this ensures that under the law that we have access to those benefits that married couples have."
The new law comes nearly a year after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.
"Today is a beginning, not an end," said Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the measure and who is one of five openly gay lawmakers in the state Legislature. "It offers the hope that one day, all lesbian and gay families will be treated truly equal under the law."
Last year, Murray spearheaded a gay civil rights bill that became law 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. Murray also introduced a bill this year for same-sex marriage, but it never received a hearing and died in committee.
Opponents said domestic partnerships are "a step toward gay marriage."
"It sets things in motion," said Cheryl Haskins, executive director of Allies for Marriage & Children.
"We're taking an important step in the right direction but we cannot forget the final goal," said Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle. "We know too well that real challenges, real changes in justice, don't happen overnight."
In December, New Jersey adopted civil unions for same-sex couples, joining Connecticut and Vermont. Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry, while California has domestic partnerships that bring full marriage rights. Hawaii has a reciprocal benefits law that gives same-sex partners some rights, in areas of insurance, property, pension and hospital visitation.
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