Same-sex rights could expand in Washington state


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 7:08 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 7:08 a.m.

OLYMPIA, Wash. Adrienne Purcella's life has changed a lot in the past year: She got a job as a police officer and officially entered a domestic partnership with Libby Cope.

The Seattle couple joined other gay and lesbian couples Wednesday as lawmakers announced a move they hope leads to another milestone: The expansion of the state's domestic partnership law to offer same-sex couples all the rights and benefits given to heterosexual married couples.

"Not only for now, but in our future when we have kids, I need to know that she and they are protected if anything happens to me," said Purcella. "To not have that protection is very scary."

The 110-page bill makes changes to all remaining areas of state law where currently only married couples are addressed. The bill would add same-sex domestic partners to state statutes ranging from labor and employment to pensions and other public employee benefits.

"I would say the most remarkable thing about this bill is that it is unremarkable," said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle. "Instead of the cultural wars that we have seen year after year, we see a Legislature that is mostly on board in moving forward on protecting all of Washington's families."

Murray, who sponsored the state's domestic partnership law in 2007, is sponsoring the expansion bill in the Senate this year; Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is sponsoring the measure in the House. They are two of six openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature.

Last year, both lawmakers led a successful effort to expand the partnership protections to sections of laws where previously only spouses were mentioned, including areas referring to probate and trusts, community property and homestead exemptions, and guardianship and powers of attorney.

This year, 20 lawmakers in the Senate and nearly 60 in the House have already signed on in support of the newest expansion, and with strong Democratic majorities in both chambers, the measure is expected to fare well.

Washington state law bans same-sex marriage.

The underlying domestic partnership law spearheaded by Murray two years ago provides hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Opponents argue that the latest measure is just one more step to sanctioning same-sex marriage, which they say dilutes traditional marriage.

"With this year's legislation, they are taking the final step to stitch together gay marriage in a state that does not legally permit it," said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester.

A measure legalizing same-sex marriage measure has been introduced to the Legislature, but is unlikely to go anywhere this year.

As of Wednesday, 4,940 domestic partnership registrations had been filed since the law took effect in July 2007.

In New Mexico, meanwhile, a proposal allowing domestic partnerships there cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature on Wednesday when it narrowly won approval in a Senate committee.

The Public Affairs Committee endorsed the measure on a 5-to-4 vote and sent the proposal to another panel for consideration. The bill will head to the full Senate for debate if it is approved by the Judiciary Committee, which could vote on the proposal later this week.

The legislation has failed in the Senate the past two years although it's cleared the House. Proponents hope the measure has a better chance of being enacted this year.

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