by Josh Friedes -
Executive Director of Equal Rights Washington
The 2011 regular legislative session ended on April 22. During the session, both the House and Senate passed all three of Equal Rights Washington's priority bills. This marks the sixth consecutive session where significant LGBT civil rights legislation was passed. That three major bills were passed by the legislature may come as a surprise to many because there was so little mainstream media attention.
Marriage Recognition Bill
HB 1649, which provides the rights of domestic partnerships to same-sex couples with legal marriages performed in other states and countries, hardly raised an eyebrow. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Laurie Jinkins. Elected in November 2010, Jinkins is the first open Lesbian elected to the Washington State Legislature and HB 1649 was the first bill she had signed into law by the governor. At the bill's signing, Governor Gregoire complimented Jinkins on having such an important bill be the first of her legislative career.
The new law means that same-sex couples moving to or living in Washington state who have legally wed in other states will immediately have the protections of the domestic partnership law without having to register, and legally wed same-sex couples traveling in Washington, such as Canadian tourists, will also have these protections.
In 2007, when the first domestic partnership law was passed, there was no support for including recognition of out-of-state marriages. The climate changed following voter approval of Referendum 71 in 2009, which upheld the third domestic partnership law and was commonly referred to as the 'everything but marriage bill.' As a result of Referendum 71, providing protections to couples with legal marriages was viewed as simply a technical fix. This is a perfect example of how quickly attitudes and understandings change.
While HB 1649 rolled back Washington state's statutory DOMA law that previously prohibited recognition of out-of-state marriages, there was strong legislative support for this corrective action. In both the House and Senate, we saw legislators who had previously voted against the domestic partnership laws voting for the Jinkins bill, and we saw three freshman Republican senators and all the newly elected Democrats supporting the bill.
Bill of 2011
HB 1163, this year's anti-bullying bill passed both houses with large margins. Representative Marko Liias again took the lead as he did with last year's successful anti-bullying bill. Washington state has truly emerged as a legislative leader on this issue as the legislature has time and time again passed anti-bullying bills, demonstrating both its commitment to the issue and its nuanced understanding that addressing it is not easy. Indeed, the bill passed this year requires the formation of an ongoing task force that will report back to the legislature from time to time. In doing this, the legislature created a mechanism that makes it much easier to update the law as needed. The bill also responded to the recent tragic number of highly publicized youth suicides and requires that suicide prevention be added to the health curriculum. Lastly, the law recognized that bullying extends beyond K-12 and required boards of higher education to issue a report so that the legislature can understand what is being done at public state and community universities and colleges to address bullying.
The final bill passed by the legislature was the most controversial. The original bill contained a provision that would allow for compensated surrogacy in Washington state while providing strong protections for surrogates, parents, and children. This provision - which was strongly objected to by the radical right and the Catholic Church for reasons largely unrelated to LGBT families - was not included in the final bill. The proponents of the original bill have already indicated their intention to file a bill in the 2012 legislative session that will make it easier for couples to form families through surrogacy while making sure that surrogates have strong protections.
The Uniform Parentage
HB 1267 was commonly referred to as the Uniform Parentage Act and made significant changes to the existing UPA in Washington state. The UPA is the law that establishes who is a legal parent.
The passage of HB 1267 represents a significant milestone in protecting the families of same-sex couples for three reasons. First, Washington's legislature becomes the first in the country to revise its parentage act - the law that determines who a child's legal parents are - specifically to incorporate same-sex couples. For the first time, parentage may be based not on genetics or biology, but on intent. This is a significant change in family law. Second, beyond the mere symbolism of this change, the bill provides concrete protections for same-sex couples and their children. By removing from the statute the terms 'mother' and 'father' and instead using the words 'parent(s)' we eliminate both stigma, and the possibility of legal uncertainty.
In Washington state, there is no longer a legal assumption that children have a mother and a father. Registration as domestic partners, or a valid legal marriage, D.P., or Civil Union, will lead to a presumption of parentage, regardless of whether there has been a second-parent adoption. Living with a child for the first two years of the child's life and holding the child out as your own will also make you a parent without any genetic connection and without prior registration.
These and other changes make it much less likely that the relationships of Gay and Lesbian people with the children they help to bring into the world will be disregarded because of the lack of a genetic connection or proper legal paperwork.
Third, the passage of these changes significantly undermines the contention that different-sex marriage is privileged in the law because of its unique link to procreation, a contention heavily relied on by the majority in the Andersen case, which upheld the ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.
Representative Jamie Pedersen was the prime sponsor of the UPA bill. Its passage through the Senate was continually in jeopardy and a large list of senators include to be thanked including Senator Ed Murray, Senator Craig Pridemore, Senator Kevin Ranker, Senator Sharon Nelson, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. The bill would not have passed without Republican support in the Senate. Republican Senators who supported the bill and deserve the thanks of the civil rights community and family advocacy community include Cheryl Pflug, Steve Litzow, Andy Hill, and Joe Fain.
During the course of the session, ERW advocates sent over 20,000 emails to Washington's elected leaders, made countless phone calls, and over 250 advocates went to Olympia on March 21 for ERW's fifth Equality Day. ERW's lobbyist Carey Morris provided outstanding representation and support to the bill's sponsors and allies. There is a great deal of credit to be spread around to legislators and organizations who played a vital role in the passage of each bill.
Now the legislature will meet in special session to pass a budget and ERW will work with our legislative allies and coalition partners to protect funding for AIDS/HIV and other critical services.
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