OLYMPIA – A year after passing a landmark bill allowing same-sex domestic partnerships, the state House of Representatives on Friday voted to dramatically expand the rights and responsibilities of such couples.
“Rarely do we have an opportunity in our work here to help so many people without having to spend a dime,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. He’s the bill’s prime sponsor and one of a half-dozen openly gay lawmakers in Olympia.
The proposal passed 62-32 on a party line vote, with many in the House’s Republican minority objecting to what they view as a steady legislative progression toward same-sex marriage.
“This is one of those issues that for some of us cut to the very marrow of our being,” said Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic, who voted no.
Last year, the state allowed same-sex couples and senior-citizen heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners, giving them a few of the legal rights that married couples get. Among them are the right for partners to visit each other in the hospital, to make health care decisions for each other, and to inherit property when there is no will.
Pedersen’s House Bill 3104 – a similar bill is awaiting a vote in the state Senate – would expand those protections and responsibilities. Among the areas affected are taxes, joint responsibility for debts, allowing partners to share a nursing-home room, and requiring elected officials to disclose financial data about their partners the same way they would for spouses.
Both sides agree that proponents’ eventual goal is same-sex marriage. But the bill would not affect the state’s marriage statute, and a Republican effort to add a clause saying that the bill doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage was ruled out of order by Deputy House Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver.
Nor could Republicans attach an amendment that would have sent the measure to voters in November.
“I think it’s important that the citizens of the state of Washington have the ability to weigh in on this issue,” said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend.
Voters are free to do that on their own by gathering enough signatures, said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.
“If the people want to do that, that’s their choice,” he said.
Sump said encouraging same-sex domestic partnerships hurts families and society, and that his religious beliefs prevent him from supporting such unions.
In the past, he said, Republican lawmakers were largely silent on the issue out of respect.
“We may have been silent to a fault,” he said.