Partners see deserved day

July 23 will be a monumental day for same-sex couples in this state, who, for the first time, will be able to register their union.

That's the day Washington's ground breaking domestic partnership law goes into effect. The measure, Senate Bill 5336, passed the House 63-35 and the Senate 28-19 and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire on April 21.

This isn't about special rights. This is about giving same-sex couples the same rights as married couples when dealing with health care and legal issues.

Officials in the office of Secretary of State Sam Reed expect a flood of people to register their domestic partnerships and pay the registration fee that first day. They have encouraged individuals to register via mail, but many couples want to do it in person. And who could blame them, given the magnitude of the event?

The registry falls short of the same-sex marriage law sought by many gays and lesbians. But the registry is more than opponents wanted.

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, a prominent critic of gay-rights proposals, fought the legislation this year, saying domestic partnerships are "a devastating blow to traditional marriage, especially when there are children." Swecker believes with the registry more couples eventually will find a way to avoid marriages that carry legal responsibilities for those children.

On the other side of the issue is Lynn Grotsky who wiped away a tear as she watched Gregoire sign the historic domestic-partnership bill into law in April. "Any equal protection and equal rights we can get, we will go for," Grotsky said. Grotsky said she and her partner planned to be among the first couples to register.

While the registry is historic, the impacts will be limited to about a little more than a dozen rights accorded domestic partners. The partners receive:

n Health care facility visitation rights;

n The ability to grant informed consent for health care for a patient who is not competent;

n The authority of health care providers to disclose information about a patient without the patient's authorization to the patient's state registered domestic partner;

n The automatic revocation of the designation of a domestic partner as the beneficiary for nonprobate assets upon termination of the partnership;

n Automatic revocation of power of attorney granted to domestic partner upon termination of the partnership;

n Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment;

n The ability to authorize autopsies and request copies of autopsy reports and records;

n The right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person;

n The ability to consent to removal of human remains from a cemetery plot;

n The ability to make organ donations;

n Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without a will;

n The ability to administer an estate if the domestic partner died without a will or if the representative named in the will declined or was unable to serve;

n Beneficiary rights in wrongful death actions;

n The ability to designate a partner's physician as the attorney-in-fact.

Those are not special rights. Those are rights any committed couple should be able to enjoy. Will the rights granted under the new law destroy the institution of marriage?