The Law as it Presently Exists
The Office of the Secretary of State maintains a domestic partnership registry. Two individuals may enter into a state-registered domestic partnership if the individuals meet certain criteria, including: sharing a common residence, being at least 18 years of age, and being members of the same sex. The domestic partnership is also available to two individuals of the opposite sex if one of the individuals is at least 62 years of age.
Under existing law, a registered domestic partnership is not a marriage because Washington law defines marriage as a civil contract between a male and a female who have each attained the age of 18 years, and who are otherwise capable of entering into marriage.
Existing law provides state-registered domestic partners and partnerships with some of the powers and rights and responsibilities available to married spouses. Such existing powers and rights include health care facility visitation rights, the ability to grant informed consent for health care for a patient who is not competent, title and rights to cemetery plots, and automatic termination of power of attorney upon termination of the state-registered domestic partnership. Domestic partners of public employees are eligible to participate in Public Employees Benefits Board insurance coverage. A certificate of domestic partnership issued by the Office of the Secretary of State fulfills eligibility requirements for the domestic partner of the public employee to receive benefits.
Existing law also addresses certain rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners related to community property, estate planning, taxes, court process, service to indigent veterans and other public assistance, conflicts of interest for public officials, and guardianships.
Under existing law, there are two processes by which domestic partners may terminate the registration and relationship. A domestic partner may file a petition for dissolution in superior court and follow the same procedures applicable to dissolution of marriage. However, registered domestic partners may also use a non-judicial termination process by filing a notice of termination with the Office of the Secretary of State if, at the time of filing notice, neither registered partner has minor children and neither partner is pregnant; the domestic partnership is not more than five years in duration; the total fair market value of community assets is less than $25,000; and neither partner has separate property assets in excess of $25,000.
The Effect of the Proposed Measure if Approved
If approved, the measure would amend references in numerous state statutes so that rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families would apply equally to state-registered domestic partners. The terms spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kin, and family, when used in state statutes, would be interpreted as applying equally to state-registered domestic partnerships as well as to marital relationships and married persons. Similarly, references to dissolution of marriage would apply equally to state-registered domestic partnerships that have been terminated, dissolved, or invalidated. Gender specific terms such as husband and wife used in any statute, rule, or other law would be construed to be gender neutral, and applicable to individuals in state-registered domestic partnerships.
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.
The measure would provide state-registered domestic partners a number of additional powers, rights, and responsibilities such as: the ability to use available sick leave to care for a domestic partner, or to receive wages and benefits where available when a domestic partner is injured; the right to receive unpaid wages upon the death of a domestic partner; the ability to receive unemployment benefits, disability insurance benefits, or workers compensation coverage where such benefits and coverage is provided to married spouses; rights under insurance policies that accrue as a matter of law after the death of a spouse, such as conversion rights and continuing coverage rights; rights and responsibilities related to adoption, child custody, and child support; and rights related to business succession applicable to married spouses.
State agencies would be required to amend agency rules to ensure that privileges, immunities, rights, benefits, or responsibilities granted or imposed by statute to an individual because that individual is or was a spouse in a marital relationship are granted or imposed on equivalent terms to an individual because that individual is or was in a state-registered domestic partnership.
If approved, the current non-judicial termination process available to domestic partners would be repealed and termination of state-registered domestic partnerships would require a judicial action.
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.
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: