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March 23, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 12
 
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Domestic partnership legislation nears final legislative hurdles
Domestic partnership legislation nears final legislative hurdles
House Judiciary Committee could vote on bill Friday, March 23

by Jacob Clark - SGN Staff

A public hearing was held in Olympia on Friday, March 16, on Senate Bill 5336, the domestic partnership legislation. The hour-long hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was presided over by Committee Chair Rep. Patricia Lantz, who heard emotional testimony from people on both sides of the issue.

Rev. Carolyn Peterson, of the United Methodist Church was the first speaker, and her support of the bill was as much for the rights granted elderly heterosexuals as for the rights of Gay couples. "While I do support same-sex rights of partnership because we need all the healthy and committed relationships that we can get," she said, "I'm here to speak to a little bit different situation that we find ourselves in, in the Church. It's if parents of us baby boomers who have come to the end of life, have discovered that they have fallen in love, but find if they were to marry at that stage in their life, they could face financial difficulty."

Namely, a loss in Social Security benefits to one of the domestic partners. SB 5336 grants the same rights to elderly couples as it does to LGBT couples. The elderly couples can form a domestic partnership for medical and death benefits, without losing their individual Social Security benefits.

Andre Jesse also spoke in favor of the bill. She and her partner of 10 years are raising two children. "As parents," she said, "it's particularly stressful to know that we are not protected by the rights; the same rights as other spouses."

Allen Fuller told of an episode of illness experienced by his partner, while they were vacationing in Florida. He was able to make the decisions for his partner's healthcare after filing paperwork with the hospital. He would have faced the same problems in Washington, without the rights and protections of the domestic partnership measure. He said, in conclusion, "We don't think it's fair that people who want to vacation in Washington have to bring a valise of legal documents with them."

Speaking against passage of the bill, Cheryl Haskins of 'Allies for Marriage and Children' said, "This bill will undermine marriage by creating an alternative to marriage for heterosexual seniors. It is important to note that neither the American Association of Retired Persons nor any other senior advocacy group have endorsed this bill."

Antonio Cube, testifying on behalf of 'The Washington State Catholic Conference' stated: "The Catholic Church upholds the rights of all people. We oppose SB 5336 because it grants rights to two types of domestic partnerships, yet fails to provide those same rights and protection to many other bonded relationships that exist outside the state of marriage. For example, siblings and extended family members are specifically restricted from receiving the rights and benefits authorized by the bill.

"For the Catholic Church, this exclusion is troubling because in many families, especially in immigrant, multi-language and racially diverse households, deeply caring relatives should be entitled to the same package of benefits proposed for older couples or couples in same-sex relationships."

Rene Ize opposed the bill. "I'm opposing the bill. Being a Lesbian for over 30 years, I can tell you homosexuals want to live alone, want to live, love and be loved," she said. "The homosexual community is not pushing this. Yes, there are always the extremists, the alarmists, throwing the baby out with the bath water."

Diane Eaton also expressed opposition to the DP bill. "Everybody hurts when they're not recognized or accepted and when you're not accepted or loved, you keep pushing to something that you feel will fulfill yourself, deep down inside. ... I understand it, that these people truly do hurt, but they'll never find what they're looking for until they give up their lifestyle and accept Christ."

Dave Horn, a member of LAMDA Legal's Board of Directors, said about LGBT individuals that "they are facing problems large and small because the law does not respect their relationships, but rather treats them as if they were strangers. These people are not rich, they're not lawyers, and they can't afford to hire a team of lawyers to draft a pile of documents that purport to give them some of the rights that this bill gives them."

The Judiciary Committee could vote on the legislation as early as Friday, March 23. The committee had previously approved the House version of the bill, House Bill 1351, on February 7. The legislation is expected to again sail through the committee because all seven Democrats, who represent the majority, are also co-sponsors of the House version.

The Senate voted 28-19 to adopt the domestic partnership measure on March 1. The Senate vote had been seen as the biggest hurdle for the legislation, which now appears headed for passage this session. The House version of the bill has 56 co-sponsors - more than half of the House members. Governor Christine Gregoire has said she would sign the bill.

SB 5336 extends domestic partnerships to same-sex couples and senior citizens over the age of 62. If passed, it would create a central state registry of domestic partnerships at the Secretary of State's office. Couples who file an affidavit of domestic partnership and pay a fee would be covered. The bill would extend, among other rights, the right of a person to visit a partner in the hospital, make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, make funeral arrangements, and attain inheritance rights in the absence of a will.

SGN Staff Writer Robert Raketty contributed to this report

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