Two years after Washington launched a controversial domestic partners registry for same-sex couples, the state Senate late Tuesday voted to grant the partners virtually all the rights of spouses -- except marriage.
“You have denied us that right,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is gay, told his fellow senators. “Do not deny us the right to care for our families and to build our lives.”
Largely along party lines, the Senate voted 30-18 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the state House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. Gov. Chris Gregoire hasn't said whether she'll sign the bill, but has said she supports such rights for same-sex couples. The Spokane region's two Democratic senators voted yes, the three Republicans voted no.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill.
“The people of our state are not ready for same sex marriage,” said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester. He predicted that the law would quickly be used for a court challenge to force the state to allow same-sex marriage.
“After the courts get through it,” he said, “this vote may be the last vote we ever have on homosexual marriage.”
Washington has had a domestic partnership registry since 2007. By registering, same-sex couples and senior-citizen heterosexual couples get some of the rights accorded to spouses.
Initially, those rights included things like visiting a partner in the hospital, inheriting property if there is no will, and making end-of-life decisions for a partner. Last year, lawmakers broadened the rights and set up a court process for dissolving the partnership if the couple have children or shared property.
The bill passed by the Senate, SB 5688, would grant the couples virtually all the rights of spouses.
Social conservatives have blasted the bill, saying it essentially allows same-sex marriage. This week, the Washington Values Alliance launched cable TV ads against moderate Democrats, trying to pressure them to vote no.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill and send it to voters in November. Some predicted a referendum drive to overturn it.
Critics of the bill repeatedly said called it a mistake to redefine traditional marriage, and said the bill is essentially the same thing.
“By any other words...this is same sex marriage,” said Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington.
Four Democrats voted against the bill; three Republicans voted for it.
“I think that this is about equal rights,” said one of the Republicans, Bellingham Sen. Dale Brandland.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she voted no to protect traditional marriage.
“I think the majority feel the same way as I would in terms of protecting the tradition,” she said.
Murray repeatedly said that the bill is not the same thing as same-sex marriage.
“I wish it was,” he said, adding that he still cannot marry his partner of 18 years, Michael Shiosaki. The two were among the first to register as domestic partners two years ago, but “this piece of paper will be useless when we cross into Idaho or Utah or anywhere else,” said Murray.