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Washington state Senate OKs domestic partner rights expansion

By RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Same-sex domestic partners would have all of the rights and benefits that Washington offers married couples under a measure passed by the state Senate.

Supporters of the bill said it offers same-sex couples fairness that has been denied them under the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.

"You have denied us that right," said bill sponsor Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of six openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature. "Do not deny us the right to care for our families and build our lives."

The bill passed on a mostly party-line 30-18 vote Tuesday night and now heads to the House. The Senate rejected two Republican amendments, including one that would have sent the measure to voters.

The bill expands on previous domestic partnership laws by adding reference to partnerships alongside all remaining areas of state law where currently only married couples are mentioned, statutes ranging from labor and employment to pensions and other public employee benefits.

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

Last year, lawmakers expanded that law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

As of Tuesday, 5,112 domestic partnership registrations had been filed since the law took effect in July 2007.

Opponents said the bill alters the traditional definition of marriage.

"Same-sex couples have the right to form meaningful relationships. But I don't think they have the right to redefine marriage for all of us," said Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she supports the new expansion measure. Gregoire signed the last two domestic partnership bills into law, as well as a gay civil rights law in 2006.

Only Connecticut and Massachusetts have legalized gay marriage. Same-sex marriage was legal in California for five months until a state referendum to ban it passed last fall.

Vermont, New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have laws that either recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford same-sex couples similar rights to marriage. Thirty states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.


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