Work on gay rights just getting started

29 Jan 2009

Partnership bill's sponsors say marriage equality is next

OLYMPIA -- Washington state's legislative gay rights team led by Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen said their work to bring about equal rights for gays and lesbians won't end until marriage equality extends to all families in Washington.

This week several legislators helped introduce legislation they hope will complete the set of rights for state-registered domestic partners.

The bill would add some 300 rights and responsibilities for gay couples. It was supported by a bipartisan group of legislators.

"The bill finishes and completes domestic partnership legislation, and gives gay and lesbian couples all the rights and responsibilities the state confers to married people," Murray, D-Seattle, said.

"Separate is not equal and we will go for equality," said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver.

"Let's be unambiguous in our discussion of this issue -- words are extremely important. Marriage is the word and civil marriage is the goal," Moeller said.

The Washington Legislature has shown increasing support over the past few years for gay and lesbian rights, passing two bills in the previous sessions.

In 2007, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill that created the State Registered Domestic Partnership Registry, giving both same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples over age 62 11 rights of traditional marriage.

"The first domestic partnership bill that passed was really about life and death situations," Murray said. The domestic partnership registry initially gave gay and lesbian couples rights equal to heterosexual spouses in certain situations including those involving health care, visitation in hospitals and the control of a partner's remains and final wishes in the event of death with no will.

The following year, the house bill sponsored by Pedersen, D-Seattle, and 58 other legislators added 160 additional rights for gay and lesbian couples.

This year's bill will tie up loose ends in what legislators hope will amount to a complete package of rights in all the remaining areas where married heterosexual couples get rights automatically. A third of the 300 rights written into the legislation would have to do with public employees and their partner's benefits, pension benefits and insurance rights.

Pedersen said that this bill touches every chapter of the Revised Code of Washington, giving gays the rights that heterosexual couples acquire when they marry.

More than 5,000 couples registered as domestic partners in Washington will benefit from the changes in this bill.

Owing to the state's fiscal crisis, two major aspects of the bill would be delayed until 2012 because of their major fiscal impact. They would include state employee pension and survivor benefits, estate taxes and the uniform parenting plan, which deals with children of either straight or gay couples who have adopted a child.

Although the bill has majority support in both houses, some legislators still oppose the idea of civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, said it should be obvious to other legislators why this year's bill shouldn't pass.

"The people who are in favor of it are trying to destroy the institution of marriage and are taking it apart bit by bit," Stevens said.

Murray said his ultimate goal is to go beyond domestic partnerships and create equal marriage for gay couples. He said that taking baby steps in the right direction is the smartest thing to do at this point, and that it's too soon to push for full marriage rights.

"It's still new to a lot of people in this state," Murray said.

He explained that his desire to gain rights little by little came from not wanting to lose any small battles in order to win the war.

If the new legislation for gay and lesbian couples were to pass, Federal Way Police Officer Adrienne Purcella would know that her domestic partner of more than one year, Libby Cope, would be taken care of should Purcella be killed in the line of duty.

She appeared at the news conference Wednesday and choked up during her testimony.

"She should have the same protection as any other police officer's spouse," Purcella said.

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