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Our View: Rights for same-sex couples aren’t scary, just fair

Continuing the momentum from the past two legislative sessions, an “everything but marriage” bill has been introduced in Olympia that changes all state statutes where only married couples are addressed. While the law still wouldn’t allow same-sex couples to get married, all of the rights and benefits conferred on married couples would also be available to couples in legal domestic partnerships.

Legalizing gay marriage would be a simpler solution, and that is inevitable – if not in this generation, then the next – but the bill’s sponsors have chosen to rack up smaller victories en route to their ultimate goal. One benefit of this slower approach is that it illuminates the legal advantages married couples obtain but might have taken for granted.

Unfortunately, that’s lost on reflexive opponents such as Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who already has served up the usual canard: “The people who are in favor of it are trying to destroy the institution of marriage and are taking it apart bit by bit.”

It’s ridiculous to think that proponents are animated by the prospect of destroying marriage, especially when so many of them would already be married if it weren’t against the law. That’s like saying civil rights proponents wanted to destroy education in seeking to integrate schools. What gay and lesbian couples want is what married couples have. Proponents say that at least 423 state statutes confer rights, benefits or obligations based upon marital status.

Federal Way police Officer Adrienne Purcella showed up for the bill announcement. She and her partner would like to have children someday. She wants an assurance that if she were killed on the job, her partner and kids would be taken care of. Do opponents really doubt her motive?

The bill’s architects, Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pederson, have already demolished some discriminatory barriers with successful bills in the past two sessions. A bill two years ago established a domestic partnership registry for couples seeking legal status. It also provided for hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will. Last year, they secured equal rights in such areas as community property, probate, trusts and guardianship.

This year’s bill would grant rights to registered domestic partners in areas such as taxes, public employee benefits and pensions. Because of the impact to the state’s budget in a tough economy, the financial hit would be delayed until 2012.

Same-sex couples seeking equal rights would have to register with the state. About 5,000 couples have done that since the registry was established in 2007, and the institution of marriage is still going strong. Opponents need to face the fact that equality just isn’t as scary as they think.

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