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March 2, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 09
 
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Domestic partnership bill passes the Senate - Senate bill moves to House for further action
Domestic partnership bill passes the Senate - Senate bill moves to House for further action
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington State Senate voted 28-19 to pass a measure on Thursday that extends domestic partnerships to same-sex couples and senior citizens over the age of 62. The Senate vote had been seen as the biggest hurdle for the legislation, which now appears headed for passage this session.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5336, now travels to the House of Representative's Judiciary Committee for consideration. The same committee had approved the House companion bill, House Bill 1351, on February 7. Two openly Gay legislators and co-sponsors of the House measure, Representatives Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, sit on the committee. From there, the bill will go the Rules Committee before heading to the floor of the House for a vote.

"We have 56 co-sponsors - more than half of the House members - and we have a really firm commitment from the House leadership about this bill," said Pedersen. "I think we have all the steps covered. We met with the governor before the session started and have her commitment to sign the legislation. It's never over until it's over, but I feel very positive about it."

The bill's primary sponsor in the Senate and second openly Gay man to serve in that body, Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, told the Seattle Gay News that the vote was a "historic" moment for the state's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. "It is the first time we've been able to move forward in a positive way on legislation for Gay and Lesbian couples," he said. "It is the first time the Senate has ever acted first on a Gay and Lesbian issue. They have always been the place that has been the problem for us. I think it is the beginning of a new discussion that will lead to marriage in the near future." Rep. Joe McDermott, the measure's primary sponsor in the House, agreed. "Having stood in the Senate wings watching debate over the last four years when the Senate chose to adjourn rather than consider the anti-discrimination bill in 2004, rejected the bill by one vote in 2005, and in 2006 finally passed the legislation 29 years after it was first introduced, I was elated to stand there again today and watch Senator Murray and 27 of his colleagues vote for the measure the first time it was introduced," he said.

Twenty-seven Democrats and Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, voted to adopt SB 5336. Voting against the measure were 15 Republicans and four Democrats, including Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam; Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond; Marilyn Rasmussen, D-Eatonville; and Tim Sheldon, D-Shelton. Senators Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, were both excused from voting.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, had attempted to introduce an amendment that would have sent the issue to the voters, but it was defeated. "I've never been afraid of the citizens making decisions, and this is certainly one that they should be allowed to make," he said.

Introduced last January, the Senate and House domestic partnership bills have moved swiftly through the Legislature. The Senate Committee on Government Operations and Elections voted on February 5 to send the bill on to the full Senate. Likewise, the House Judiciary Committee voted to do the same on February 7.

"The bill is moving faster than anticipated and with more support than anticipated," said Josh Friedes, Advocacy Director for Equal Rights Washington. "What is really exciting is that last year we passed the antidiscrimination law by just one vote in the Senate. This year, we passed the domestic partnership bill 28-19. What a difference a single election cycle makes and what a difference that has had.

"To have Sen. Murray in the Senate - his stewardship on the domestic partnership bill - is outstanding."

From the floor of the Senate, Murray had issued an impassioned plea for passage of the legislation. "Imagine for a moment if your spouse was in the hospital; if your spouse was in the hospital and dying, and you could not go into your spouse's room, you couldn't hold their hand. Well, for Lesbian and Gay families in this state, that has happened and this bill will do the work of justice and end that hurt," he said.

"Imagine if you were trying to make the funeral arrangements for your spouse and you couldn't and you couldn't have the right in the future to be buried next to them. That has happened to Lesbian and Gay families in this state and this bill will do the work of justice and end that hurt.

"Imagine that you lose the home that you lovingly created over years, that has happened to Gay and Lesbian families in this state and this bill will do the work of justice and end that hurt."

He also criticized those who were opposed to the bill based on a religious objection or because certain rights can be obtained through legal arrangements. "There are some who argue against this bill because they believe that rights can be purchased, these rights can be purchased at a reasonable price or because it goes against the beliefs of a particular religion. Such a position defies the promise of the American Revolution; the promise of equality that brought so many people to our shores," said Murray. "My grandparents left a country were rights were purchased, and where a state religion dictated beliefs that were not their own. Our grandparents did not move to this country for their grandchildren to have to purchase rights. We are citizens of a republic not subjects of a monarchy."

After Murray's remarks, a protracted floor debate - full of emotional remarks from both sides of the issue - ensued. "There was a mixture of people who felt passionate on both sides and were respectful. Occasionally, there were characterizations of Gay and Lesbian people that were pretty offensive," Murray later told the SGN.

Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, was gaveled down twice during her speech in opposition to the bill as she veered from the topic of marriage to "sexual intercourse with animals, necrophilia, which is sexual intercourse with the dead, incest, which is sexual intercourse between a parent and a child&"

"This bill is not about equal rights, it's about changing society in ways that will ultimately harm it. Thriving civilizations take care to guard this sacred institution of marriage and the innocence of children," she said. "Our acquiescence to the Gay rights as it is depicted, homosexual rights, liberation is political appeasement. We are giving away the building blocks of lasting society one bill at a time."

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, who had introduced a joint resolution this session to amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, also raised the issue of marriage. His proposed amendment died in committee this week.

"What that really does is create another category broadly defined as an alternative to marriage for everybody and I would think that would be a devastating blow to our culture and to the institutions that really knit our society together and keep us whole and keep us healthy," he said.

Murray had addressed the topic in his remarks. "There are some who argue against this bill because they believe it will lead to marriage equality for Lesbians and Gays in this state. Legally it will not and we know that," he added. "I wish it would and morally I believe it will, but legally it will not. I hope though, that through this debate you will realize when you hear the stories of our families, that there is really only one answer for all families and that is marriage.

"But this bill will not allow me and my partner Michael [Shiosaki] who we have shared our lives together for 15 years; it will not allow us to marry. We still won't be able to marry. We met when Michael was in his 20's and I was in my 30's and I am in my 50's and still I can't marry."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, who has a Lesbian sister, told her colleagues that she was voting for the measure because "people like my sister and her partner," she argued, "are real people with real, live issues that are not so different than the kinds of issues that any of you can imagine."

If passed, SB 5336 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.

In a narrow 5-4 decision last July, the Washington state Supreme Court had ruled to uphold the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex couples from access to marriage. Washington State's five openly Gay legislators sought to rectify the inequity by introducing domestic partner legislation and a bill to legalize marriage for same-sex couples in both the House and Senate. Murray's marriage equality bill in the Senate died in committee on Wednesday.

The domestic partnership legislation was a key focus of Equality Day on Monday, February 26, which featured visits with legislators and a rally of 1,500 people on the steps of the Capitol. The pro-LGBT group's Equal Rights Washington and the Religious Coalition for Equality were chiefly behind the event, which drew supporters of LGBT equality from all corners of the state.

"Ultimately, laws don't write themselves; laws don't pass by themselves. Laws get passed due to a lot of work by a lot of people," said Friedes. "People need to see this as proof positive that if we work hard, we can make a difference. We now have to double the work that we are doing, because - ultimately - we have to secure marriage equality."

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