December 3, 2009

Domestic partnership registrations are way up in Washington since election

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More couples are registering for domestic partnerships in Washington state since voters approved the state’s “everything but marriage” law last month, becoming the first state in the  nation to vote rights for same-sex couples.

rita_hibbardwebThe new law takes effect today, providing expanded rights and responsibilities for same sex couples and some senior couples, including bereavement leave, health care coverage regulated by the state and medical decision making. Seattlepi.com’s Chris Grygiel reports a big increase in filings since the election – an average of about 90 a week – up from about 35 to 40 previously.

Other state laws giving rights to domestic partners were approved by legislatures or courts. Those states include New Jersey, California and Oregon.

But even as the new law takes effect, there is “broad ambiguity” over what rights the new law does and does not protect, reports Lornet Turnbull of the Seattle Times.

The confusion arises because the federal government does not recognize same-sex unions, and its Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, trumps state law in directing how certain federal-benefit laws are enforced.

It’s the kind of uncertainty that increasingly is showing up across the country, as more states recognize same-sex relationships — through civil unions, domestic partnerships or even gay marriage — with the benefits and responsibilities conferred by those arrangements falling into an evolving and largely untested gray area of law.

The biggest area of uncertainty is – no surprise – health care coverage. That’s because the state lacks the authority to compel employers with federally regulated plans to provide benefits to domestic partners, Turnbull reports.

— Rita Hibbard

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