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Gov. Gregoire signs "everything but marriage" bill into law
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Gov. Gregoire signs "everything but marriage" bill into law
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Gov. Chris Gregoire (D-WA) signed legislation on May 18 which gives registered same-sex domestic partners all the rights and benefits that Washington state now offers married couples. Nearly 300 people were in attendance at Seattle's Montlake Community Center, including a large number of Gay and Lesbian couples and their children, as well as a veritable who's who of those responsible for advocating the "everything but marriage" bill 5688 and the LGBT community's march towards marriage equality in Washington and the nation. The law will take effect July 26.

When Gregoire stepped up to the podium, the jubilation in the air was unmistakable. For LGBT Washingtonians, Monday was a day to celebrate.

"Today we are strengthening Washington by strengthening families. From the first bill I signed in 2007 to today's bills, we have proudly made immeasurable strides on behalf of LGBT individuals and families," Gregoire said.

The legislation expands on previous domestic-partnership laws by adding such partnerships to all remaining areas of state law that, until Monday, only addressed married couples. As of Monday, there were 5,395 registered domestic partners, representing every county in the state.

"Many brave families have come forward to share their lives, their struggles and their moments of joy - hard-working men and women who are in committed relationships, raising children, attending their places of worship, and volunteering in their communities," Gregoire said. "After meeting these families, people have come to know that Lesbian and Gay families are no different than their own."

Many of Gov. Gregoire's comments drew cheers and applause from the crowd inside Montlake Community Center.

The battle over domestic partnership in Washington began three years ago when the state Supreme Court ruled against 11 Gay and Lesbian couples seeking the right to marry in Washington. The court upheld the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits marriage to one man and one woman. In response, the legislature passed a bill that created the domestic partnership registry, which Gov. Gregoire then signed into law. In 2008, the Legislature added to the registry rights and responsibilities, giving registered same-sex domestic partners a few more rights, but never equality. By signing Bill 5688 into law on Monday, Gov. Gregoire filled those gaps for Gay and Lesbian families across Washington.

"There can be no question that the landscape of equality for Gay and Lesbian families is changing, here and across the nation," said Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "Today, 11 years after our state established the intolerance of DOMA into law, Washington law will finally treat Gay and Lesbian families the same as married couples. Recently, Iowa and Vermont have legalized full marriage equality. Of course, marriage equality is the final goal for Gay and Lesbian families here in Washington, too. We will pursue full equality, but with our full but cautious commitment."

Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) agreed. "This bill is about protecting families - mine and over 5,300 others in 278 cities and towns across Washington State," said Pedersen, who sponsored the bill in the House. "Making sure that all Washington families enjoy the full and equal protection of the law strengthens our whole community."

Equal Rights Washington (ERW) Advocacy Director Josh Freides told SGN, "I think I can speak for the board, staff, interns and volunteers when I say that as exhausting as the legislative session and election season was, when you see the faces of the families who will be protected, you can't help but be proud of the work we as a community are doing." He said he believes that if we dig down deep and work really hard the next few years, then children born today will never remember a time when Gay and Lesbian couples did not have the right to legally marry.

Equal Rights Washington spearheaded the grassroots and professional lobbying in support of the Domestic Partnership Expansion Bill - something Sen. Ed Murray acknowledged during his speech Monday. The efforts included Equality Day which saw over 800 people going down to Olympia to lobby their legislators and participate during a noon rally. He said ERW helped identify families who could testify at committee hearings in Olympia. Additionally, ERW action alerts generated tens of thousands of e-mails to legislators where constituents shared their thoughts and stories and countless phone calls.

ERW was by no means alone in working to put a human face on the need to protect LGBT families. Many organizations participated in the efforts, said Friedes. Those groups included FUSE, the Religious Coalition for Equality, Legal Voice, the ACLU of Washington, Planned Parenthood Votes, the Human Rights Campaign, Join the Impact, the Task Force, Lambda Legal, the Pride Foundation, The Washington Chapter of American Psychological Association, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the GSBA, a dozens of churches and synagogues.

"The key to our collective success has been helping people find their voice so that they may tell their stories and ask friends to participate in our work of protecting Washington families," Freides said. "Many stories come from straight allies and we must continue to ask for their support. People don't take action unless they are asked."

There has already been an initiative filed in opposition of the bill by a public action committee called Protect Marriage Washington. The group, a network of conservative and religious organizations, plans to begin collecting signatures to repeal the measure under Referendum 71. The group has to wait a full week to see if someone challenges the referendum's ballot title in court. Then they will have until July 25 to collect 120,577 signatures. If Protect Marriage Washington is successful, the law will be suspended until voters decide the referendum.

Several Gay-rights advocacy groups are seeking to raise money to turn back the challenge through a campaign called Decline to Sign.

"We have to protect the domestic partnership law," Freides told SGN. "We have to continue tell our stories and how are lives would be hurt if the law were repealed. An easy way to do this is to ask people to take the pledge to decline to sign Referendum 71 online at our website."

Just remember, said Friedes, "When you ask somebody to take the pledge, let them know in personal terms why this issue means so much."

Still, regardless of the pending referendum, Monday was an important day for Washington's LGBT population and their families.

In addition to the main domestic partnership bill, Gregoire signed House Bill 1445, which permits domestic partners to receive the survivor and death benefits available to spouses from the Washington State Patrol Retirement System. She also signed House Bill 1616 to provide qualified domestic partners the same pension and Public Employees' Benefits Board reimbursement benefits available to spouses of members of Law Enforcement Officers' and Fire ?Fighters' Retirement System Plan Two. These include retirement and disability survivor benefits, military service credit benefits, and withdrawal and annuity benefits paid upon a member's death.
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