Washington Passes Referendum Ensuring Domestic Partners Have Rights

(WASHINGTON)- Voters in Washington state have approved Referendum 71, which preserves expanded domestic partner protections for same-sex couples and unmarried senior couples, according to unofficial results. The initiative passed by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5.

“Passage of Referendum 71 is a victory for fairness and families in Washington state,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Voters stood together, listened carefully and rejected the opposition's effort to distort the facts. This victory promotes fairness, supports families, and is good for Washington state and the country. This victory sends the message that no family should be left vulnerable and without basic protections because of someone else’s prejudices.”

The bill to expand domestic partner benefits was passed in May 2009 and signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire. The measure was placed on the ballot after opponents collected enough signatures to qualify for a referendum.

“Washington Families Standing Together ran an excellent campaign to educate and mobilize voters all across the state about the domestic partner law and its protections for the 12,000 residents in registered domestic partnerships and their children,” said Carey. “The campaign drove home the point that all families need and deserve fair treatment, especially in times of crisis. Health insurance, pensions, death benefits and family leave to care for a sick loved one were among the benefits made vulnerable by the threat to the domestic partnership law.”

Said Josh Friedes, Campaign Manager for Washington Families Standing Together, “This is a wonderful victory for all those who value fairness and equality. Washingtonians have defended fairness and taken a strong stand for all families. We would not be celebrating this victory if it were not for Washingtonians’ commitment to civil rights, our amazing campaign staff, our volunteers, our community and allies, and the support of [The Task Force and the HRC]."

Said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, “The people of Washington have rejected a mean-spirited attempt to rob some citizens of the protections that others receive. The passage of Referendum 71 assures that state-registered domestic partners will have the same financial and personal security under state law as their neighbors. Although only marriage is truly equal, this referendum provides tangible protections that are more important than ever in these uncertain economic times,” he added.

Both the HRC and The Task Force contributed time and resources to assist Washington Families Standing Together in the passage of Referendum 71.

The HRC made more than $90,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions, coordinated phone banks, organized nearly 100 HRC local steering committee members and other HRC volunteers to assist with get-out-the-vote efforts and mobilized more than 30,000 HRC members and to get them involved in the referendum efforts.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund supported Washington Families Standing Together with a $10,000 contribution to underwrite the hiring of a statewide field director, provided advice and expertise to develop campaign and field plans, and sent a senior organizer to train the campaign field team.

Said Carey, “Washington Families Standing Together brought together a broad spectrum of supporters who know that protecting all our families is good for the entire community. [We] congratulate the campaign and thanks all the voters who cast a ballot in favor of equality.”

Fourteen states plus Washington, D.C. have laws providing at least some form of state-level relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire (law to take effect January 1, 2010) recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law. Five states—California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada—plus Washington, D.C. provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Hawaii, Colorado and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits. New York and Washington, D.C. recognize marriages by same-sex couples validly entered into outside of the jurisdiction. California recognized marriage by same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality. The Proposition 8 vote has been challenged in federal court; a decision is not expected any time soon.

Because of the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act,” same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state, even if they are married.