The firestorm surrounding Referendum 71, which would keep the states everything-but-marriage law, is a two-pronged debate. Theres what the law does, and what might come next.
We think voters should decide R-71 based on the first question.
Opponents of extending more rights to same-sex couples are largely waging a speculative campaign. They warn that if Washingtonians approve R-71, gay marriage wont be far behind.
But gay marriage is not on the ballot. What is on the ballot is completion of the states incremental march toward a robust domestic partnership law.
That march began two years ago with the creation of a domestic partnership registry and the extension of some major rights, such as the ability to visit a partner in the hospital.
It continued last year as lawmakers expanded the law, granting domestic partners both rights (access to community property was one) and responsibilities, such as the duty of public officials to disclose domestic partners financial affairs.
In 2009, lawmakers returned to finish the job. Rather than continue to chip away at inequalities statute-by-statute, they did a sweep of state law to add domestic partner anywhere the terms spouse, husband, wife, widow, widower, family or next of kin appears.
Same-sex couples would have every benefit and responsibility now offered to heterosexual married spouses under state law everything short of marriage. Gay marriage remains illegal in Washington. R-71s ballot title states emphatically a domestic partnership is not a marriage.
The state wont be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if R-71 passes. Neither will domestic partners have the protections and obligations granted by federal law, such as the ability to file joint tax returns and Social Security survivors benefits.
Opponents, who collected signatures to put the law on the ballot next month, claim that gay rights supporters will use Washingtons law to push for same-sex marriage. They very well may, but voters can only decide whats before them.
R-71 is a collection of big and small benefits that together would help make life easier and fairer for committed same-sex couples. R-71 would give domestic partners the ability to use sick leave to care for a sick partner. It would give them business succession rights. It would fulfill the promise of civil unions, which were created exactly because same-sex couples cant marry.
The News Tribune recommends voters approve R-71 and affirm lawmakers work to complete the job they started two years ago.
Understand your choices
R-71 is likely to confuse some voters because the measures sponsors are the opponents of the law. Heres how to make sure you vote the way you intend: If you support expanded rights for domestic partners, as adopted by the Legislative and signed by the governor, vote to approve R-71. Those who want to roll back the law should vote to reject R-71.