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Same-sex marriage (SSM) & domestic partnerships

Washington Legislature activity:
2008/9: expand domestic partnerships

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Minor enhancement of domestic partnerships in 2008:

Legislative staff reported that:

"In 2008 the Legislature enacted 2SHB 3104 which expanded the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners. The legislation amended statutes related to dissolutions; community property; estate planning; taxes; court process; service to indigent veterans and other public
assistance; conflicts of interest for public officials; and guardianships. 5

Status of domestic partnerships at the beginning of 2009:

Few people in Washington State really expected the domestic partnership law of 2007 to be the permanent state for government recognition same-sex relationships in the state, even including the 2008 enhancements. It was obviously intended by its sponsors to be the first step towards eventually repealing the state's "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) and authorizing same-sex marriage in the state.

A same-sex couple or an elderly opposite-sex couple who registered as domestic partners received only a subset of the rights and privileges that are automatically given to every opposite-sex married couple, including the rights listed above, and in addition, to:

bulletVisit their spouse in hospital;
bulletGive consent for health care if a partner is ill and not competent;
bulletAuthorize autopsies and organ donations;
bulletArrange funerals for their spouse, and
bulletObtain inheritance rights where there is no will.

Perhaps the most important privilege was withheld from domestic partners: the use of the word "marriage." Everyone knows that marriage means that the couple is committed to support each other for their lifetime, and

"...to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part." 1

But compared to the centuries of tradition supporting marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions are viewed as asecond-class arrangement of lesser worth -- independently of what legal rights and privileges it gives.

Passage of Senate Bill SB 5688:

State senators Murray, McDermott, Kohl-Welles, Fairley, Hobbs, Ranker, Pridemore, Kauffman, Kline, Keiser, Regala, Fraser, Prentice, Oemig, Franklin, McAuliffe, Jarrett, Brown, Kilmer, and Tom introduced Senate Bill SB 5688 to enhance the rights of domestic partners to be equal to those given by the state to opposite-sex married couple with one exception: the use of the word "marriage." It has popularly been referred to as the "everything but marriage" bill.

The bill had its first reading on 2009-JAN-28. It was referred to the Government Operations & Elections Committee and later to the Senate Committee on Ways & Means. Two public hearings were held during February. A substitute bill replaced the original bill; it was first read on 2009-FEB-16.

It specified that:

"It is the intent of the legislature that for all purposes under state law, state registered domestic partners shall be treated the same as married spouses. ... The provisions of this act shall be liberally construed to achieve equal treatment, to the extent not in conflict with federal law, of state registered domestic partners and married spouses. ... Where
necessary to implement this act, gender-specific terms such as husband
and wife used in any statute, rule, or other law shall be construed to
be gender neutral, and applicable to individuals in state registered
domestic partnerships." 2

Disinformation/fear campaign by religious and social conservatives:

About 11 videos were posted to YouTube by the Washington Values Alliance (WAVA) on 2009-MAR-08. Each video targeted a specific state senator. The campaign does not seem to have been particularly effective. The total number of views of the videos ranged from 88 to 2,006 -- depending upon the senator involved -- by 2009-JUL-29. 7

These videos have been criticized for being deceptive. They state that:

bulletThe Senate was voting on a bill to redefine marriage to include homosexual relationships. Actually the Senate bill left marriage completely alone. Same-sex couples would still be prohibited from marrying. The bill would merely enhance the rights of registered domestic partners.
 
bulletInnocent children in public schools would be taught that gay marriage is normal and healthy. Students may well be taught this. After all, many psychology and psychiatric professional associations have taken this position. However, this has nothing to do with SB 5688 because marriage would still be unavailable to same-sex couples in the state.

Whenever a major ethical question has arisen over the past two centuries, there has been considerable resistance to change among a portion of the public. This happened during the movement to abolish slavery, when there was a debate whether women should be allowed to enter various professions, when women's suffrage was fought for, when some married couples sought access to contraceptives, when racial segregation was being terminated, and now when equal rights for loving, committed same-sex couples are being debated. The entire population does not move in synchronism in such matters. As a result, when the culture goes through one of these conversions, some parents will object to schools' teachings, no matter what position the educators take.
 
bulletAgainst a background that shows a male adult holding a Holy Bible in his hand, the voiceover states: "The sponsor of this law says that those who disagree with homosexual marriage should face being fined, fired and even jailed until they relent." This is apparently a quote out of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Unfortunately, the text identifying the sponsor is so blurry as to be unreadable. So we are going to have to take their word for it.
 
bulletIt concludes by asking the viewer to ask her/his senator to "defend traditional marriage." i.e. defend marriage between one man and one woman -- or perhaps one man and multiple women, depending on your religious tradition. But opposite-sex marriage would not be affected in any way by this bill.

Dominic Holden wrote a report on these deceptive ads on the "Slog News and Arts blog. He stated:

"Conservatives often claim that they don't oppose granting equal rights to gay couples; they want to preserve the institution of marriage. Well, this bill would preserve 'marriage.' So these ads?this fight?isn't about protecting their sacred word or their unions: They're blatantly fighting to deny equal rights [to loving, committed same-sex couples]."

We wonder whether the videos would be counter-productive. It seems that most viewers would realize that SB 5688 and the video discuss two very different things: the bill refers to domestic partnerships; the video refers to same-sex marriage.

The bill passes in the Senate:

The bill was given its third reading and final vote by the full Senate on 2009-MAR-10. The bill was passed with: 30 in favor, 18 opposed, and 1 excused. 3

Passage of the corresponding house bill, HB 1727:

First reading was on 2009-MAR-13 when the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and late to the Ways & Means Committee and Rules Committee. Two public hearings were held on MAR-23 and APR-04.

The bill was given its third reading and final vote by the full House on 2009-APR-15. The bill comfortably passed with: 62 in favor, 35 opposed and 1 excused. 3

The bill becomes law:

The bill was delivered to the Governor Chris Gregoire on APR-23 who signed it into law on 2009-MAY-18. 4  

Most sections of the law became effective on 2009-JUL-26, although two sections only become effective on 2009-AUG-01 and additional sections on 2014-JAN-01. 5

Information about state-registered domestic partnerships is provided by the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State. 6

References used in this essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Alternative vows," The Church of England, at: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/
  2. Text of "Substitute Senate Bill 5688," SB 5688 - 2009-10: Expanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners." Washington State Legislature, at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/
  3. "Certificate of Enrollment: Engrossed second substitute Senate bill 5688," at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/
  4. "Final Bill Report: E2SSB 5688," at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/
  5. "Information about State Registered Domestic Partnerships," Secreatary of State, at: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/
  6. "Pflug Gay Marriage ad," YouTube, 2009-MAR-09, at: http://www.youtube.com/. See also the "Related Videos" that target other senators.
  7. WAVA's home page is at: http://valuesaction.org/
  8. Lurleen. "Washington Media Slams Referendum 71 but Misses the Truth About Domestic Partnerships," WashBlog, 2009-MAY-11, at: http://www.washblog.com/
  9. Dominic Holden, "Deceptive Ads on Domestic Partnerships," Slog News & Arts, 2009-MAR-07, at: http://slog.thestranger.com/

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-JUL-29
Latest update: 2009-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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