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State governor signs domestic-partnership bill

State governor signs domestic-partnership bill

Washington State governor Chris Gregoire signed into law Saturday in Olympia a measure to create domestic partnerships, giving gay and lesbian couples some of the same rights that come with marriage.

The law establishes a domestic-partnership registry and provides same-sex couples with such rights as hospital visitation, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

''It offers the hope that one day all lesbian and gay families will be treated truly equal under the law,'' said state senator Ed Murray, who is one of five openly gay lawmakers in the legislature.

To be registered, couples have to share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else, and be at least 18.

Unmarried, heterosexual senior couples will also be eligible to register if one partner is at least 62. Lawmakers said that provision, similar to one in California law, was included to help seniors who are at risk of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry.

Gregoire received a standing ovation from about 200 people in the ornate reception room at the state capitol.

''This is a very proud moment for me as governor, to make sure the rights of all of our citizens are equal,'' Gregoire said.

People in the crowd cried as Gregoire relayed stories of couples who testified before lawmakers this year about being denied access to dying partners in the hospital or not being allowed to plan their funerals.

''It is time we put an end to these stories,'' she said. ''This simply allows our seniors and our same-sex partners to rely on each other and to care for each other when they are faced with life and death situations. These are the rights of all Washingtonians.''

The new law will take effect in July. It comes nearly a year after the state supreme court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.

Couples can register in person with the secretary of state's office in Olympia or by mail.

Opponents argued the new law will dilute traditional marriage.

''I think it's an unfortunate step backward, not knowing where it will lead us culturally,'' said Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is the leader of Positive Christian Agenda, a state group of Christian organizations opposed to same-sex marriage. ''Giving marriage-lite benefits without the benefit of marriage strikes me as not a good idea.'' (Rachel La Corte, AP)

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