By SEAN COCKERHAM
Tacoma News Tribune
April 23, 2007
The state law will take effect July 22. It gives gays, lesbians and unmarried seniors rights to visit a partner in the hospital, inherit property when there's no will and make decisions on matters such as emergency health care, funeral arrangements and disposition of remains. Domestic partners are to register with the Secretary of State's Office to qualify for the rights.
"I'm delighted," said 70-year-old John McCluskey of Tacoma, Wash. "I don't want my family making decisions when my time comes, if Rudy is still around. He is my partner. We have committed our lives together."
McCluskey said he and Rudy Henry are about to celebrate 48 years of living together. In 1985, McCluskey said, he was rushed to Tacoma General Hospital with chest pains. He said his partner didn't have the right to find out what was going on.
"He was quite distraught, because he couldn't see me and couldn't find out anything," McCluskey said.
Opponents of the bill said it will lead to legalizing gay marriage in Washington. Republican Rep. Bill Hinkle said the Legislature is "chipping away at the very foundations of this institution and of society."
Lawmakers opposed to the bill also said most of the rights granted in it can already be acquired through power of attorney or other contracts.
Legal same-sex marriage doesn't appear imminent in the state. The Legislature passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the law last summer, and a bill to overturn it did not get a hearing in the Legislature this year.
Michael Jensen of Tacoma, who just celebrated his 15th anniversary with his partner, said he hopes the new law will raise awareness about the lack of rights for same-sex couples. Even with its passage, he said, married people will still have vastly more rights than gay and lesbian couples. Such rights include tax benefits, assumption of a spouse's Social Security benefits and the right not to testify against a spouse in court.
Jensen, who just celebrated his 15th anniversary with his partner, said he thinks public sentiment will turn to the point where people think it's ridiculous that same-sex couples aren't entitled to the rights of people allowed to marry.
In the meantime, he said, the domestic-partnership bill the governor signed Saturday is valuable. Jensen said he and his partner don't carry their power of attorney papers wherever they go, and something like a car accident can happen to one of them at any time.
"I think this is a great first step," Jensen said. "It is long overdue. It's something certainly my partner and I plan on taking advantage of."
Heterosexual partners will also be eligible if one partner is at least 62. Bill supporters say seniors were included because some choose not to remarry after a spouse dies because of the possibility of losing pension and Social Security benefits.
California, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia already have domestic-partner registries, according to Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights group.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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