Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced bills to broaden the rights of couples who register with the state as domestic partners. So far, nearly 5,000 couples have signed up for the registry. Many are same-sex partners; others are heterosexual senior citizens. (The latter group could marry, but doing so would mean that some widows and widowers would lose pension benefits or other rights linked to a deceased spouse.)
Two years ago, lawmakers approved the registry and granted the partners rudimentary rights, such as being able to visit each other in the hospital and make health care decisions for each other.
Last year, those rights and responsibilities were expanded to cover property rights and set up a formal process for dissolving the partnerships.
This year's legislation -- a first draft was nearly 2,000 pages long -- is an attempt to give those couples virtually all the rights and responsibilities of married couples in Washington. It covers about 300 things, including pension benefits, estate taxes and things as mundane as automatically transferring a business license to the surviving family member.
For the purposes of this chapter, the terms spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kin, and family shall be interpreted as applying equally to state registered domestic partnerships...
the bill says repeatedly. The couples would not, however, be married. Two other bills would allow same sex marriage, but neither of those is expected to pass this year.
"It is not marriage, but it is everything that heterosexual families have currently," said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.
Marriage, he and other proponents say, remains the goal.
"What we know
is what we've known for a very long time," Murray said. "Separate is not equal. And we will go for equality."
"We hope that sooner, rather than later, we'll be here talking about a marriage bill," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. Like Murray, Pedersen is gay.
"Our opposition to these bills could not be stronger," said Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance. "We will do everything within our power to stop them."
Stickney said that gay marriage would demolish the historical foundation for such unions: creating a family unit to protect children and strengthen society. Male-female marriage "has provided the foundation for wholesome and harmonious family living for civilized societies for hundreds of years," he said.
"While the `gay agenda' may be fashionable with many of the Seattle-area legislators," Stickney said in a press release, "it is opposed by a majority of Washingtonians who resent being dragged along involuntarily by a radical social movement that contradicts the wisdom of the ages."
A Bothell pastor, Joe Fuiten, wrote to supporters that the change "will cause the rates of (heterosexual) marriage to decline in Washington State," resulting in societal instability.
"God's law is established in the
male-female relationship," wrote Fuiten. "When the state acts to
replace the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the legislature, we are
headed for an uncertain future."
Sen. Murray predicted that same-sex marriage will take years to get through the Legislature. But it won't take three decades, like an earlier gay-rights bill did. People increasingly know gay and lesbian people as friends, neighbors and co-workers, he said, and public acceptance of their relationships is growing.
"This state has moved on," he said.
said he expects a citizen's initiative to try to roll back the new
domestic partnership bill if it passes. Gay and lesbian groups and
their allies are preparing to fight back, he said.