Commentary: Washington state should finish job on domestic partnerships

April 1, 2009 

This editorial appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

In the law, there are sweeping, fundamental rights that shape people's lives, and then there are the small privileges that simply make life more bearable.

Washington's incremental march toward fair treatment for same-sex couples has scored big gains in the latter category over the last two years. They've won legal recognition of domestic partnerships, the right to be at their partners' sick beds, protection under domestic violence laws and acknowledgment of community property, among others.

Now gay-rights supporters are back with an everything-but-marriage bill that would extend to registered domestic partners every benefit and responsibility now offered to heterosexual married spouses. The 100-page bill would add domestic partners to state laws ranging from labor and employment to pensions and other public employee benefits.

A few of the benefits granted by this legislation are biggies – business succession rights and the ability to use sick leave to care for a partner to name two.

But otherwise the bill is remarkable for its breadth, not its particulars. Life is filled with niggling little details that never get a second thought until they become problems. So is Washington state law.

Take, for example, the case of a financially distressed property owner who gets a deferral on the fees he must pay for a local improvement district in his neighborhood. Should he die, that deferral transfers to his wife. Not so if his partner is a man.

There are hundreds of state statutes that employ what once was a catchall word: spouse. Many were written long before nonconventional families were common and certainly before domestic partnership was a legal alternative.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

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