[JURIST] The Washington State House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday approved a domestic partnership bill (SB 5336) [PDF text; bill summary] by a vote of 63-35 that grants same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights when there is no will, and the power to authorize medical procedures, such as organ donation and autopsies. Although the legislation stops short of allowing same-sex couples to marry and affording additional rights that accompany marriage, it is a significant step toward the legalization of same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The bill, passed by the Washington State Senate [JURIST report] in March, would establish a domestic partnership registry under which couples can qualify for certain rights if they share a home, are at least 18 years old, and they are not in a domestic partnership or marriage with another person. The legislation also allows heterosexual couples to qualify for domestic partnership status if at least one of the partners is over 62 years old. Opponents of the measure claim it erodes the institution of marriage, but the bill's supporters stressed the importance of granting equal rights to same-sex couples. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire [official website] is expected to sign the measure into law.
Last year Washington passed a landmark gay civil rights act [JURIST report] sponsored by openly gay Sen. Ed Murray (D) [official website], which rewrote Washington's Civil Rights Act to include the phrase "sexual orientation" among the classes of people protected from discrimination in housing, lending, and employment. Murray also sponsored the domestic partnership bill. AP has more. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has local coverage.