Washington State on Track To Expand Domestic Partnership Rights

seattleLawmakers in Seattle seem likely to expand the rights and benefits of domestic partnerships to include the same rights and benefits as marriage based on a head count of support. It’s a definite step forward for LGBT equality, but we wonder how much of the support comes out of fear that of a court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, which is currently outlawed in the state. We don’t want to look a gift legislation in the mouth (most. tortured. metaphor. ever.), but the recent flurry of marriage-lite legislation appearing in State Houses across the nation seem designed to quell homegrown furor over marriage equality. What do you think? Are expanded domestic partnership rights genuine progress or bribe to gays to keep them from protesting?

The A.P. reports:

“The 110-page bill makes changes to all remaining areas of state law where currently only married couples are addressed. The bill would add same-sex domestic partners to state statutes ranging from labor and employment to pensions and other public employee benefits.

“I would say the most remarkable thing about this bill is that it is unremarkable,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle. “Instead of the cultural wars that we have seen year after year, we see a Legislature that is mostly on board in moving forward on protecting all of Washington’s families.”

Murray, who sponsored the state’s domestic partnership law in 2007, is sponsoring the expansion bill in the Senate this year; Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is sponsoring the measure in the House. They are two of six openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature.”

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  • Anarchos

    I think it’s genuine progress.

  • John K.

    It’s genuine progress because it gives more rights, but won’t keep gays from protesting.

  • Tyler

    I think that it actually gives us more motivation to keep up th eprotesting. When you see that some progress is being made, you don’t give up the fight, you keep pushing. It being touted here are the “everything bu marriage bill,” and keeps us optimistic that if we keep pushing and making ourselves visible we will attain marriage. This, in the meantime, will ensure that we have all the rights of married couple while we continue the culture war over diction.

  • Tony

    I live in WA State – & Thank God!
    Oh yeah – its lawmakers in Olympia, WA – that is the capitol. Whoops!

  • Brian

    Although it’s clearly progress,the problem with the “everything but marriage” approach is that it can weaken support of marriage. That was part of the Prop 8 strategy: the Yes campaign argued that California’s domestic partnership laws are so strong, there are no legal benefits to marriage that domestic partners don’t already have. So people could vote Yes while thinking that they weren’t actually discriminating or taking away any tangible rights or benefits. It is true that domestic partnership is very close to marriage in CA, but there are both legal and intangible differences (putting aside the lack of any federal recognition or benefits).

    Similarly, in AZ, voters rejected a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage because it also outlawed recognition of civil unions. When they were presented with an amendment that only banned marriage, they passed it.

    So it seems like when it comes to a choice between providing no benefits and all and providing full marriage rights, people would support marriage — but when the choice is providing “everything but marriage” and marriage, they’ll choose “everything but.” This isn’t to say we necessarily should try an “all or nothing” approach, but I think it’s naive to think that starting off with providing “separate but mostly equal” benefits is going to make people more inclined to move towards fully equality down the road.

  • RichardR

    “bribe to gays to keep them from protesting” — now there’s a reason to pass civil rights legislation. I mean, if I were a Washington state official, I’d be really terrified that gays might go around protesting.

    It’s progress, of course, but the real progress — and further demonstration that progress often is incremental — is the last line of the AP quote: “They are two of six openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature.”


  • mgh

    Japhy, Japhy, Japhy… I love your blogging, but please, some fact checking!

    “we wonder how much of the support comes out of fear that of a court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, which is currently outlawed in the state”

    I don’t know if you somehow failed to remember the awful summer of 2006, but we already lost the same-sex marriage case that went before the Washington Supreme Court. Andersen v. Sims. Even Wikipedia will tell you that.

    The Washington legislature doesn’t have to give us anything for fear of the courts, because the courts have already had their say. Mind you, the courts could, conceivably, decide to do a “civil unions only” ruling, but that seems unlikely for at least a few more years.

    We’re already lost on this one, judicially. This is just good legislating.

  • mgh

    @mgh: (with apologies, the case originated as Andersen v. Sims and was eventually decided as Andersen v. King County)

  • John


    Brian, authors William Eskridge and Darren Spedale [Gay Marriage: For better or for Worse; What We’ve Learned from the Evidence] have examined the outcome of LGBT relationship recognition in Scandinavia, and believe that an incremental approach has worked best there. After decades of experience, Scandinavian countries (and churches!) are now in theprocess of extending full marriage.

    In Washington state in particular, legislators have added DP provisions in two (hopefully soon to be three) consecutive sessions. This has given legislators experience in saying Yes to LGBT families. Gay legislators have been explicit in saying that the ultimate goal is marriage. (Which makes it especially funny to hear a local pastor complain that this is a “sneaky” backdoor way to get to marriage. Nothing sneaky about it — just smart.)

    We’re also fortunate here in that state constitutional amendments have to go through the legislature, making that line of counterattack much less likely.

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