OLYMPIA – Washington voters have approved the state’s new “everything but marriage” law, expanding rights for domestic partners and marking the first time any state’s voters have approved a gay equality measure at the ballot box.
With about 72 percent of the expected vote counted Thursday in unofficial returns, Referendum 71 was leading 52 percent to 48 percent, with a margin of about 60,000 votes.
Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who spearheaded the law, called it “a great step forward for equality in Washington state.”
The measure asked voters to approve or reject the latest expansion of the state’s domestic partnership law, granting registered domestic partners additional state rights previously given only to married couples.
Full-fledged gay marriage is still not allowed under Washington law.
Gary Randall of Protect Marriage Washington, which opposed the law and pushed to get the referendum on the ballot, said they weren’t ready to concede.
“We’re just going to wait and watch it play out,” he said.
Two national gay rights groups – the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Family Equality Council – say that voter approval of such a measure was a first. Gay equality laws in other states, ranging from civil rights to gay marriage, have either been implemented by the courts or legislative process. Voters have rejected gay marriage 31 states, most recently in Maine, where voters repealed a gay marriage law on Tuesday.
“Our state made history today,” said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, which fought to keep the law on the books. “This is a day for which we can all look back with pride.”
The expanded law in Washington state adds benefits, such as the right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner, and rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.
During the campaign, opponents argued the law is a stepping-stone to gay marriage. Gay rights activists countered that while the marriage debate was for another day, same-sex couples need additional legal protections and rights in the meantime.
The law will take effect Dec. 3, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The underlying domestic partnership law, which the Legislature passed in 2007, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.
Last year, lawmakers expanded the law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.