The state law will take effect July 22. It gives gays, lesbians and unmarried
seniors rights to visit a partner in the hospital, inherit property when
there's no will and make decisions on matters such as emergency health care,
funeral arrangements and disposition of remains. Domestic partners are to
register with the Secretary of State's Office to qualify for the rights.
"I'm delighted," said 70-year-old John McCluskey of Tacoma, Wash. "I don't want
my family making decisions when my time comes, if Rudy is still around. He is
my partner. We have committed our lives together."
McCluskey said he and Rudy Henry are about to celebrate 48 years of living
together. In 1985, McCluskey said, he was rushed to Tacoma General Hospital
with chest pains. He said his partner didn't have the right to find out what
was going on.
"He was quite distraught, because he couldn't see me and couldn't find out
anything," McCluskey said.
Opponents of the bill said it will lead to legalizing gay marriage in
Washington. Republican Rep. Bill Hinkle said the Legislature is "chipping away
at the very foundations of this institution and of society."
Lawmakers opposed to the bill also said most of the rights granted in it can
already be acquired through power of attorney or other contracts.
Legal same-sex marriage doesn't appear imminent in the state. The Legislature
passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, defining marriage as a union
between one man and one woman. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the law last
summer, and a bill to overturn it did not get a hearing in the Legislature this
Michael Jensen of Tacoma, who just celebrated his 15th anniversary with his
partner, said he hopes the new law will raise awareness about the lack of
rights for same-sex couples. Even with its passage, he said, married people
will still have vastly more rights than gay and lesbian couples. Such rights
include tax benefits, assumption of a spouse's Social Security benefits and the
right not to testify against a spouse in court.
Jensen, who just celebrated his 15th anniversary with his partner, said he
thinks public sentiment will turn to the point where people think it's
ridiculous that same-sex couples aren't entitled to the rights of people
allowed to marry.
In the meantime, he said, the domestic-partnership bill the governor signed
Saturday is valuable. Jensen said he and his partner don't carry their power of
attorney papers wherever they go, and something like a car accident can happen
to one of them at any time.
"I think this is a great first step," Jensen said. "It is long overdue. It's
something certainly my partner and I plan on taking advantage of."
Heterosexual partners will also be eligible if one partner is at least 62. Bill
supporters say seniors were included because some choose not to remarry after a
spouse dies because of the possibility of losing pension and Social Security
California, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia already have
domestic-partner registries, according to Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights