Today, The Olympian's editorial board offers an unqualified endorsement of equal rights for same-sex domestic partners. We encourage voters to approve Referendum 71 on Nov. 3.
The ballot is somewhat confusing. Most people have strong personal opinions about rights for gays and lesbians. Converting that opinion to the right vote on the general election ballot is a challenge.
THE BALLOT TITLE:
“Statement of Subject: The legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners (and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill).
“Concise Description: This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage.
Should this bill be:
Those who support equal rights for same-sex domestic partners will vote “approved.”
Those who support equal rights for elderly heterosexual couples who, for economic reasons, have an unaviodable disincentive to be formally married, will vote “approved.”
As the ballot title says, this is not gay marriage.
This is not about changing school curriculum to promote a gay lifestyle.
This is not about a huge drain on the state budget.
This is not about special rights.
Simply put, Referendum 71 is not what opponents say it is.
Referendum 71 is about supporting equality.
It’s about protecting families.
It’s about creating a set of legal protections for same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples where one of the partners is older than 62.
It’s about ensuring that the 12,000 registered domestic partners in committed relationships in Washington state enjoy the same rights, responsibilities and benefits as married couples.
The extension of rights has followed a logical and progressive path in the state Legislature.
In 2007, lawmakers created the domestic partner registry. They also gave same-sex couples equal rights regarding wills, inheritances and the right to visit a partner in a hospital setting.
In 2008 lawmakers took the next step. They extended rights to gays and lesbians in the arena of estates and dissolutions.
In 2009, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5688. It’s a comprehensive law that extends rights in labor and employment areas. It affects pensions and other employee benefits. The law, for example, gives same-sex couples the right to use sick leave or unpaid family leave to care for a domestic partner. The law gives partners the right to wages and benefits when a domestic partner is injured. The law is about business success rights, unemployment benefits, insurance and pension rights. The law also grants rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.
At the time the bill passed, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, one of six gay lawmakers, said, “This bill completes our work on domestic partnerships by making sure that we state clearly our intention to treat domestic partners in our state equally.”
And those are the rights that would go away if Referendum 71 is rejected. That’s unacceptable.
Opponents have successfully challenged the law by collecting enough signatures of registered voters to qualify Referendum 71 for the November ballot.
Opponents try to have it both ways. First they argue that this measure legalizes gay marriage. When that fails to pass the straight-face test, opponents argue that this ballot proposition is just another step down the “slippery slope” to gay marriage.
Voters must not succumb to their fear tactics. This is not a vote to legalize same-sex marriages. That point is made crystal clear in the explanatory statement on Referendum 71 included in the voters’ guide. It says, “If approved, the measure would not change the statute defining marriage under Washington law. A domestic partnership would not be within the definition of marriage, which would continue to be limited to one man and one woman.”
Those voters committed to equal rights for all will vote to “approve” Referendum 71 on Nov. 3.