With the stroke of a pen, Governor Christine Gregoire ended years of frustration, years of invisibility felt by gay and lesbian couples in the state of Washington.
"It means dignity and respect, that we're the same as everybody else," said Rachel Smith-Mosel, who witnessed the signing along with her partner and their children.
The governor signed a measure that gives same-sex domestic partners and some unmarried seniors all the rights and benefits our state offers married couples.
"Despite the sameness, absolute sameness between straight and gay and lesbian couples," said Gregoire, "nonetheless, here in the state of Washington, we saw discrimination. We saw inequality that had to be addressed."
And as the ink flowed to make that happen, so did the tears. Emotion poured from witnesses as they crowded around the desk where Gregoire signed the bill.
"We've always been a family, we've never not been a family, but to have the rights that married couples enjoy is a big deal," said Amie Bishop, who also witnessed the signing with her partner and their children.
The bill expands domestic partnerships to include, among other things:
-Rights to wages and benefits
-Unemployment and disability
Everything "but" marriage for the state's nearly 54-hundred registered domestic partner couples...and it's that "but" that some activists put next on their list.
"Our commitment is solid, our family is solid and we just need the same rights and protections and I hope that marriage would come soon," says Smith-Mosel.
The everything but marriage law is scheduled to take effect this July, but it could be stopped before that can happen.
Opponents have already filed a referendum to put the new law up for a vote.
They have until July 25th to gather more than 120-thousand signatures to put the referendum on the November ballot.
Among the new rights given to domestic partners:
-The right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner.
-The right to wages and benefits when a domestic partner isinjured, and to unpaid wages upon the death of a domestic partner.
-The right to unemployment and disability insurance benefits.
-The right to workers' compensation coverage.
-Insurance rights, including rights under group policies, policyrights after the death of a domestic partner, conversion rights andcontinuing coverage rights.
-Rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.
-Business succession rights.
The existing domestic partnership law already addresses:
-Some public assistance provisions, such as access tostate-funded domestic violence shelters.
-Rights and obligations for public officials' domestic partnersto file public disclosure reports.
-Probate and trust laws.
-Guardianship and power of attorney issues.
-Judicial process and victim rights, including testimonialprivileges that allow domestic partners the right to refuse totestify against each other in court.
-Dissolution, parenting plans and child support laws.
-Community property and other property rights andresponsibilities.
-Homestead exemption laws.
-Health care facility visitation rights.
-Ability to grant consent for health care for a partner who isnot competent. Health care providers can disclose patientinformation to the patient's partner.
-Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment.
-Right to control disposition of a deceased partner's remains,including right to make anatomical gifts, authorize autopsies andconsent to remove partner's remains from a cemetery plot.
-Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without awill.
-Administration of an estate if the domestic partner dieswithout a will or if the named representative declines or is unableto serve.
-Making domestic partners beneficiaries of wrongful-deathactions. Lawsuits for wrongful death could be brought on behalf ofa surviving domestic partner.
-Requiring that information recorded on death certificatesinclude domestic partnership status.
"This is the day" said Governor Gregoire moments after she signed the "Everything But Marriage" domestic partnerships bill into law Monday.
This momentous day gives more than 400 rights to gay and lesbian couples, rights that heterosexual couples have had for years.
"Today we are strengthening Washington by strengthening families," Gregoire said. "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. This represents the culmination of incredible work to treat all Washingtonians equally."
"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. And what has naturally followed is the unsettling notion that despite the sameness of straight couples and gay and lesbian couples, there are, in fact, legal barriers that prevent the same treatment."
Sen. Ed Murray is one of several openly gay legislators behind the bill and says it's just the first step. He says to his opponents, "Let's talk, let's meet. No conditions."
"Today, eleven 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." says Murray
Despite the signing of the bill, opponents have already filed a referendum to overturn it.
Washington State already has a domestic partnership law that gives rights to gay couples under probate and trust laws, guardianship and power of attorney issues, and child support laws among others.
In 1998 state lawmakers passed the Defense of Marriage act, which barred same-sex marriage in our state.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times