April 22, 2007 in City

Partner rights bill signed into law

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – A standing-room-only crowd in the state reception room cheered Saturday morning as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a measure allowing same-sex couples to register for some of same legal rights married couples get automatically.

“Our families are different, but every one of our families deserves our undivided support,” the governor said.

The law, which takes effect in July, sets up a partners’ registry. It grants each couple rights, including hospital visits, inheritance rights if there is no will, and the right to make decisions about autopsies and organ donation.

Heterosexual couples also could register if at least one partner is age 62 – a provision aimed at helping senior citizens who cannot remarry for fear of losing pension or Social Security benefits from a deceased spouse.

Proponents on Saturday called the bill a victory on a longer path toward same-sex marriage.

“Today is a beginning, not an end,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of five openly gay lawmakers in Washington.

“It may take a while, but that is just how social evolution takes place,” said another gay lawmaker, Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle. “We’ll get there.”

The bill had passed the Senate 28-19 and the House 63-35, with votes that largely mirrored party lines.

Some Republican lawmakers on Saturday called the new law – and the continued push for same-sex marriage – an ominous step for traditional marriage.

“When government condones a certain type of activity that a lot of people consider immoral, that just shows you the state of your country,” said Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. “It’s the breakup of the family. This is just another indicator of what’s happening.”

“It changes the basic organization of society,” said Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards. “For thousands of years, we’ve had a man and a woman, and they had kids.”

It’s best for children to have male and female parents as role models, she said. “I think that’s lost in any other configuration,” she said.

In Spokane, Marge Ballack called passage of the law “wonderful,” but also said it’s just a beginning. Ballack and her longtime partner, Diane Lantz, married in Canada four years ago – a marriage not recognized here. Both were deeply disappointed when the state Supreme Court last year narrowly upheld the state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Ballack and Lantz were among the gay and lesbian couples who had filed suit.

“Man, we’ve been at this for 30 years,” Ballack said Saturday. But she said she remains optimistic that Washington, like Massachusetts, will legalize same-sex marriage.

“People are realizing we’re just like they are, with the same wants and desires,” she said. “We take care of our children just like they do. It’s got to happen. It just has to.”

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