Domestic partnerships pass Washington state legislature:

With the expected signature of the governor, the state will now grant some of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Gays and lesbians can't legally wed, but the Legislature took another step toward that Tuesday by passing domestic partnership legislation for same-sex couples.

"It's not marriage," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. "There are more than 400 state law rights or obligations that don't come with domestic partnership, and we are going to have our hands full trying to get those rights and protections, too....

The bill passed easily on a 63-35 House vote despite condemnations from conservatives who said the bill was an affront to community values and religious freedom.

Gov. Chris Gregoire plans to sign the bill, which earlier passed the Senate, into law. Senate Bill 5336 creates a domestic partnership registry with the state and provides enhanced rights for same-sex couples, including hospital visitation, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

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

Similar to California law, unmarried heterosexual couples would also be eligible for domestic partnerships if one partner were at least 62.

The advocates' intent to incrementally move toward gay marriage was one of the main reasons opponents fought the legislation. . . .

[Sen. Ed Murray, (D-Seattle),] said the bill moves gay marriage one step closer.

"I think we are closer to marriage than people realize, but it's still a multiyear process, it's still going to take a lot of work," he said.

Overall, the movement toward recognizing same-sex relationships in state legislatures has greatly accelerated since the fall election brought more Democratic control of state houses.

In Washington state, the legislature is also responding to a 5-4 decision by the state supreme court last summer that denied a gay marriage claim but left open the possibility of future claims for legal benefits. I commented here on that decision and its suggestion for legislative action to alleviate the legal difficulties faced by gay families. Whether the new domestic partners legislation will satisfy the court may be tested in future litigation.