Bill gives same-sex couples status here
KATIE SCHMIDT; Staff writer
Freshman Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma on Wednesday saw her second bill pass out of the state Legislature, and, it was an important one for gay and lesbian couples, she said.
It would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states as domestic partnerships in Washington, and she said it reflects that public opinion is becoming more accepting of diverse families.
Jinkins, the first openly lesbian representative to serve in the Legislature, said the bill further affirms a 2009 statewide ballot measure that gave domestic partners many of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples.
“I think the Legislature is a real representation of the public on this issue,” she said. “I think it’s tracking right along with the public, and I think in both places it has really picked up steam.”
House Bill 1649 passed out of the Senate in a 28-19 vote. It already passed the House and now goes to the governor.
Joshua Friedes, executive director of the gay-rights group Equal Rights Washington, said his group supports the bill because, although the state recognizes domestic partnerships from other states, it does not recognize same-sex marriages.
“What this bill did was really address a grave injustice,” Friedes said.
Although married same-sex couples who come from outside Washington could register for a domestic partnership here, Friedes said it’s unfair to require them to register separately in every state because heterosexual couples don’t have to.
Also, he said, some couples who get married in other states don’t realize they have to register in Washington. Same-sex couples can legally marry in five states and Washington, D.C.
Friedes said equal rights for same-sex couples in Washington won’t be complete until their marriages are recognized under federal law. They’re currently not eligible for federal tax benefits, Social Security survivors’ benefits or immigration rights.
But he said this bill at least will help ensure couples aren’t denied benefits they’re entitled to, including rights to inheritance and to make medical decisions on behalf of their loved one.
In one case in another state, Lacey resident Janice Langbehn was denied visitation rights to see her dying partner in 2007 while the couple was vacationing in Florida. Hospital officials did not recognize their Washington domestic partnership – an incident that drew national attention to the inconsistencies between laws affecting same-sex partners in different states.
Jinkins said her bill would make sure Washington voters got what they asked for when they approved Referendum 71 two years ago.
“It’s a very straightforward bill; some would even say it’s technical,” she said. “We’re just recognizing what voters in this state have said they wanted to do.”
The bill’s opponents believe it does more than correct a technicality.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, voted against the bill in committee and again on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying Washington gives enough protection to gay and lesbian couples and that it could be dangerous to allow laws passed in other states to take effect here.
“There’s really no need to do this reciprocity because our laws actually are really quite frankly much more liberal than many of the other states involved,” Benton said. “I think it leaves us open in the future in terms of being subjected to whatever any other legislature might pass.”
Five Republicans supported the bill on the Senate floor, including Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester, who has opposed gay-rights bills in the past.
He said he still opposes domestic partnerships but agreed this bill would add clarity and consistency to an otherwise confusing law.
“I think if we’re going to do it as a state, we should do it right,” Swecker said.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826