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Victory in Olympia! "Everything But Marriage" legislation passed
Victory in Olympia! "Everything But Marriage" legislation passed
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Gay and Lesbian citizens of Washington State had cause to celebrate Wednesday afternoon. The Washington State House of Representatives passed the "Everything But Marriage" Bill 5688 with a 62-35 vote, following the Senate's passage on March 11 by a 30-18 vote. The legislation, sent to the desk of Governor Christine Gregoire to be signed into law, will expand Washington's domestic partnership statute to include all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage.

"This is a great day for those who embrace equality and fairness in our state," said Senator Ed Murray, the bill's prime sponsor, in a statement released to SGN.

The Democratic Senator represents the 43rd Legislative District which includes Downtown Seattle, University District, and the predominantly Gay Capitol Hill neighborhood - essentially areas that wield great political power in Olympia. "We are one step closer to protecting all of our families," Murray said.

Representative Jamie Pedersen, who also represents the 43rd Legislative District, was instrumental in advocating the "Everything But Marriage" bill.

"I am very proud that even in a difficult budget year, the legislature has made substantial progress for LGBT people and their families. The passage Wednesday of the Domestic Partnership Expansion bill will mean that over 5,200 families who have registered will have all of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in our state," Pedersen told SGN in an interview Thursday "It brings our law in line with those in Oregon and California."

"And with the law in place, we will be able to start making the case that only marriage will provide true equality for our families," he said.

Although the bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Gregoire within the next weeks, Pedersen said it would be met with opposition.

"Our opponents are really frustrated by our progress. They have indicated their intent to block the domestic partner law with a referendum, or even to undo the entire registry through an initiative," Pedersen warned. "We will need to ready to defend our work."

Sen. Joe McDermott told SGN that the Domestic Partnership Expansion bill was debated at length before being approved. McDermott helped champion the legislation during its rise in the Senate.

"While everything the Legislature does this year is viewed through the lens of our budget deficit, I found the arguments on the House Floor about financial cost [such as pensions to the partners of state employees] to be blurred vision," said McDermott. "I, for one, am certainly not going to argue that we should balance the budget on the back of inequality."

While the previous work of Sen. Murray and his supporters has been applauded, 160 of the more than 400 rights extended to married couples did not apply to same-sex domestic couples - until Wednesday, that is, as Murray's "Everything But Marriage" bill closed those gaps.

Examples of the rights ad responsibilities that would be extended to Gay and Lesbian families under this measure include the right to use sick leave to care for a partner, pension benefits, workers' compensation coverage, and the right to unemployment and disability benefits, to name but a few.

The passing of the legislation won praise from LGBT organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a group dedicated to build the grassroots power of the LGBT community, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization.

"This measure will bring same-sex couples in Washington one step closer to realizing equal treatment under the law. Particularly in times of economic crisis, it is vital that same-sex couples and their families have access to health care and other critical protections provided through this legislation," said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey.

While clearly not a substitute for legal marriage, it is a step in the right direction, she said.

The Human Rights Campaign worked directly with Equal Rights Washington to mobilize thousands of supporters to lobby their legislators in Olympia, send over 35,000 e-mails and make thousands of phone calls to legislators according to a press release made available to SGN by the organization.

"We applaud the Washington State Legislation for providing these important protections under Washington State law to committed Lesbian and Gay couples, and we thank Senators Ed Murray and Joe McDermott and Representatives Jamie Pedersen, Dave Upthegrove, Jim Moeller and Marko Liias, as well as Equal Rights Washington, for their leadership on this civil rights issue," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

Equal Rights Washington Advocacy Director Josh Friedes said the organization is delighted that the bill passed, adding that his colleagues and volunteers worked hard to build support for Domestic Partnership legal representation as well as educate the general public about the fight for equality.

"This is a giant improvement," Friedes told SGN during a telephone interview Thursday.

Despite the victory, Friedes cautions the LGBT community to keep in mind that these protections same-sex couples will enjoy vanish at the Washington borders.

"Marriage operates at the legal and social level, not just federally, but on an international scale as well," said Friedes. "Domestic Partnerships do not receive the same recognition and respect."

In addition to Washington, eleven states plus Washington, D.C. have laws providing at least some form of state-level relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa (beginning April 27, 2009) and Vermont (beginning September 1, 2009) recognize marriage for Gay and Lesbian couples under state law.

California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. provide same-sex couples with access to the state-level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Maine and Hawaii provide Gay and Lesbian couples with limited rights and benefits.

Additionally, only one state - New York - recognizes marriages by same-sex couples validly entered into outside of New York.

Lesbian and Gay couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state. That is something many in the LGBT community, including Sen. McDermott, would like to see changed.

"Please know that while I celebrate this accomplishment, I am well aware that Domestic Partnerships are still not marriage, and I will work for equality in our marriage statutes," McDermott said.

Until that work is accomplished, he said, "I am proud" that there are real protections for our families.

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