The Washington State legislature enacted its first domestic partnership law in 2007. The law, drafted by State Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, created a registry for committed gay and lesbian partners and for straight couples where one partner is at least 62. For the first time, partners in such relationships were guaranteed hospital visitation rights, the right to give informed consent and to receive health-related information, and the right to consent to autopsies.
The following year, the domestic-partnership law was extended to cover estate planning and to address jointly owned property, taxes, debts, and some veteran benefits.
Finally, in 2009, the law was expanded to grant registered partners virtually all the rights and benefits accorded to married couples under state law. These include the right to use sick leave to care for one another, the right to death and pension benefits, and the right to receive an injured partner’s wages and unemployment and disability-insurance benefits.
Though the latest version of the law has been called the “everything but marriage” act, domestic partners in Washington State will still not enjoy the full benefits of legal marriage. More than 1100 federal protections and benefits enjoyed by married couples are still lacking, and Washington domestic partner unions are invalid outside the state.
Religious conservatives opposing the 2009 expansion of the domestic-partnership law lost no time in organizing against it. In the spring and summer after its passage, Protect Marriage Washington collected enough signatures to challenge it in the November 2009 election. Referendum 71 asks voters to approve or to reject it.
If you are a Washington voter who opposed the referendum during the signature-gathering phase, don’t get confused! Notice that the referendum asks whether the 2009 bill should be approved or rejected. Therefore, you will blacken the oval next to “approved.”
Finally, here is a quick, easy, and effective way of ensuring that the bill is enacted. Work up a 15-second “elevator” speech about the referendum, in which you clearly explain that the bill benefits not just gay and lesbian couples but all domestic partners where one of them is at least 62 years old. Emphasize that an “approved” vote is a vote to strengthen families in Washington state. Then mention the referendum to at least three of your friends and associates, explain its importance for Washington families, and finally, ask each of them to mention the referendum to three other people.
Vote for families in Washington. Vote to approve Referendum 71!