The Washington state Legislature has
agreed to expand a domestic partnership law and grant gay and lesbian
couples all the rights and benefits that the state offers married
couples, reports the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
The Democratic-controlled House passed
the bill Wednesday along a mostly party-line vote of 62 to 35 after
nearly two hours of debate. Senators approved the bill in March with
a 30 to 18 vote.
Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who
assumed office in 2005 and signed the original 2006 domestic
partnership law and two previous expansions, has said she will sign
the bill into law.
“Our state is one that thrives on
diversity,” Gregoire said in a statement. “We have to respect
and protect all of the families that make up our communities.”
The bill was sponsored by openly gay
Senator Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the state's
domestic partnership law in 2007, while openly gay Rep. Jamie
Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat, sponsored the measure in the House.
Washington state lawmakers defined
marriage as an institution between a man and a woman when it banned
gay marriage in 1998. In 2006, the Washington Supreme Court upheld
the legality of the law.
Last year, lawmakers successfully
passed a bill that greatly expanded the partnership protections,
moving from only 11 rights to over 170.
The 110-page bill expands benefits
further to include all remaining areas previously only granted to
heterosexual married couples. The measure was labeled by the media
as the “everything but marriage” bill.
Opponents of the bill say it redefines
marriage and violates the state's gay marriage ban.
“We cannot elevate the legal standing
of domestic partnerships to equate with marriage and not have
profound impact on the status of marriage in this state,” said Rep.
Jay Rodne, a Republican from Snoqualmie.
Five other states recognize gay and
lesbian unions without calling it marriage including New Jersey,
California, New Hampshire, Oregon and the District of Columbia. This
year, lawmakers in Hawaii and New Mexico rejected efforts to
recognize gay unions.