Supporters are also trying to make older, unmarried heterosexual couples eligible for domestic partnerships rights
OLYMPIA, Wash. Washington state’s five openly gay lawmakers called Jan. 11 for the right for same-sex couples to get married and said they would pursue that goal while seeking enhanced domestic partnership rights.
Supporters are also trying to make older, unmarried heterosexual couples eligible for domestic partnerships, as long as one of them is at least 62.
“Like you, my family is the center of my life,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and main sponsor of the bills set to be introduced early this week in the Senate. “Lesbian and gay families in Washington are hurt because of this state’s failure to recognize our relationships.”
Murray told a news conference that he has had “positive responses” from House and Senate leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire on the partnership bill.
Afterward, Murray said Gregoire has been silent on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Gregoire’s spokeswoman, Holly Armstrong, said the governor had not yet seen the proposals.
Joining Murray at the news conference were Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, and Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, along with representatives from several gay rights groups.
To be registered under the proposed domestic partnership bill, couples would have to share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else, and be at least 18.
All domestic partnerships would be registered with the secretary of state, and the rights would include hospital visitation, the ability to consent to autopsies and authorize organ and tissue donation, and inheritance rights when there is no will.
McDermott said that while marriage is ultimately the goal, the partnerships are necessary now in order to “provide some remedy, some relief and some humanity to couples until they can marry and enjoy the full rights and benefits.”
Pedersen, newly elected to Murray’s old seat in the House, said lawmakers decided to include senior heterosexual couples because they are “particularly vulnerable because of the possibility of losing pension rights and losing Social Security benefits if they remarry.”
AARP spokeswoman Lauren Moughon said her organization has not taken a position on the measure.
Opponents were suspicious of the inclusion of senior couples.
“That just makes the bill easier to accept,” said Cheryl Haskins, executive director of Allies for Marriage & Children.
The state Supreme Court upheld Washington’s ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision last July, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in restricting marriage to unions between a man and woman. The high court overruled two lower courts, which had found the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
However, three of the justices writing in the majority invited the Legislature to take another look at the gay marriage ban’s effect on same-sex couples.
Last month, New Jersey adopted civil unions for same-sex couples, joining Connecticut and Vermont in allowing civil unions for gay couples.
Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry, while California has domestic partnerships that bring full marriage rights. Heterosexual elderly couples also are eligible under California’s law.
Murray has introduced same-sex marriage measures before, but none have received a hearing. He spearheaded a gay civil rights bill that became law last year after nearly 30 years of failure in the Legislature.
That measure, which took effect in July, added “sexual orientation” to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.
Murray said he does not believe it will take decades before same-sex couples are allowed to marry.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a long time,” he said. “This is not 1977. This is not the civil rights bill.”
Opponents argue that even the domestic partnership bill would erode traditional marriage.
“Individuals can choose to live how they want to,” Haskins said. “No one is talking about telling people how to live. We’re talking about what we want to promote as a society. We want to be supportive of things that uphold marriage.”
Haskins said her organization opposes the domestic partnership bill because it’s a stepping stone to same-sex marriage.
“We certainly have concern for those situations” of hospital visitation and end-of-life decisions, she said. But she argued that all of those arrangements can be created by legal contracts.
“It’s no different than what you or I want to do with our elderly parents,” she said. “I’m not asking for the Legislature of my state to give me those benefits automatically.”
Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, is pushing a constitutional amendment this year to affirm traditional marriage, a proposal unlikely to succeed since Democrats have overwhelming control of both the House and the Senate.
Murray said that even if such a measure makes it to the ballot, he thinks it would fail.
“I don’t think the citizens of this state support using the constitution to discriminate, regardless of how they feel about the underlying issue of marriage,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 19, 2007