Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
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Domestic Partnership
The Washington Approach
© June 26, 2012, Demian

Washington offers many of the spousal rights to same-sex couples that are offered to legally married opposite-sex couples. The law also covers opposite-sex couples, in which at least one partner is past 62.

Domesti Partnership registrations became law on April 21, 2007. It took effect on July 22, 2007, accepting applications on Monday the 23rd.

On March 12, 2008, a greatly expanded addition to the partnership status was made law, taking effect on June 12, 2008.


Gaining these few domestic partner benefits followed a court loss for the right to legal marriage. Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) sponsored the original domestic partnership bill. Murray and other sponsors of the bill made it clear, when they introduced the bill in January 2007, that their goal is full marriage equality for same-sex couples, and that they viewed domestic partnerships merely as an incremental step.

When Governor Christine Gregoire signed the registration bill, allowing couples to make health care and end-of-life decisions for each other, she said “This is a very proud moment for me as governor.” The governor repeated a story told by Seattle resident Charlene Strong, whose moving testimony before legislative committees many lawmakers said gave the bill the margin it needed to pass both chambers.

Strong’s 10-year partner, Kathryn Fleming, died in December 2006, after she was trapped by rising water in the couple’s flooded basement studio. Strong was barred from Fleming’s hospital room, and the funeral director who handled Fleming’s arrangements refused to acknowledge the couple’s relationship, although “he was more than willing to accept (Strong’s) credit card,” the governor said.

Governor Gregoire also told the story of a lesbian couple from Spokane. When their 6-year-old son was injured in a bicycle accident, the doctor refused to treat him because the parent was not his biological mother. She said, “It’s difficult enough in these tragic circumstances. Why then do we compound the tragedy?”

Governor Christine Gregoire:

“This bill is about protecting and helping Washington families. It simply gives these families the same rights as everybody else. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Love manifests itself not in some cookie-cutter way. Love comes in many forms. Our families are different, but every one of our families deserves our undivided support.”

2nd Partnership Law

On March 12, 2008, a large number of valuable additions were made to the registration, which was to become effective on June 12, 2008, but got moved to December 3, 2009 because of Referendum 71 (see “The Right-Wing Extremists Challenge” below. Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) sponsored the expansion bill (SB 5688) in the Senate. Representative Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) sponsored it in the House.

The 199-page updated partnership law makes changes to 173 sections of state law, including requiring domestic partners of public officials to submit financial disclosure forms, just as do the spouses of opposite-sex officials. The measure also gives domestic partners the same spousal testimony rights that married couples have, allowing domestic partners the right to refuse to testify against each other in court.

It also adds domestic partners to sections about probate and trusts, community property and homestead exemptions, and guardianship and powers of attorney. And ending a domestic partnerships would be allowed by the secretary of state only during the first five years, with several more restrictions relating to children, real property or unpaid debts. All other partnerships would be dissolved in Superior Court; similar to conventional divorce.

In general, the 2008 expansions cover areas of Public Officials, Public Assistance, Judicial Process and Victim’s Rights, Veterans, Community Property and Property Rights, Taxes, Guardianship and Powers of Attorney, Probate and Trust Law, and Dissolution.

The Right-Wing Extremists Challenge

The right wing extremist groups Washington Values Alliance, Protect Marriage Washington, and the Faith and Freedom Network launched and/or supported Referendum 71, which they had hoped would prompt Washington State voters to vote "no." Their plan was to destroy the expanded domestic partnership law (Senate Bill 5688), which offers the right of a same-sex couples, and partnered straight elders, to protect each other with a potent domestic partnership law.

The extremists had hoped that Ref. 71, which “grants state registered domestic partners in Washington all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples,” would so disturb the electorate, that it would prevent same-sex couples and seniors from being protected.

They were countered with a coalition of more than 280 non-profit allies, labor unions and associations, 150 members of clergy, and 50 congregations and Faith organizations, who joined in supporting partnership rights. Many small businesses as well as major employers like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Google, Nike, Starbucks, and Group Health, let it be known that they value all their employees.

In support of domestic partnership rights, the Washington Families Standing Together campaign raised a total of approximately $1,089,557 and spent $207,361, as of October 2009. Some of the major pro-partnership contributors included: Microsoft Corporation, ($100,000), Human Rights Campaign Approve Ref. 71 PAC ($73,500), Pride Foundation ($36,353), American Civil Liberties Union, ($32,000), John Stryker, architect ($25,000), and the National Education Association ($15,000).

In opposition to domestic partnership rights, the Protect Marriage Washington campaign raised a total of approximately $60,115 and spent $36,116, as of October 2009. Some of the major anti-partnership contributors included: Adams Bryant ($7,095), Dobbs Glenn, president of Mines Management, Inc. ($2,750), Rivers of Glory Christian Church ($2,000), Atonement Free Lutheran Church ($1,000), and the Washington Values Alliance ($1,400).

In the November 2009 vote, the outcome was that Ref. 71 was approved, which allows the expanded benefits for domestic partnerships.

According to blogster Joe Mirabella:

“This moment in history is simply unprecedented. Referendum 71 was only the 6th referendum in Washington history to ever be approved by Washington voters. It is far easier to reject a referendum than approve one. In only six weeks we changed the conversation from the ‘decline to sign’ campaign [refering to the campaign to place Ref. 71 on the ballot], to one of approve [Ref. 71]. We faced an off-year election, when older more conservative voters have a far better voting record. An LGBT referendum has never been approved by voters anywhere in the United States, that is until November 3 when fair-minded voters from throughout the state said, ‘yes we want equality for all Washington families.’ ”
Posted by Joe Mirabella, November 5, 2009,

Liabilities of the Partnership Law

This expanded partnership law is still an interim measure as legal marriage in Washington State triggers more than 360 laws.

See our other articles on Washington State marriage law

The State Registered Domestic Partnership law requires the Public Employee Benefit Board (PEBB) to accept the state registration when determining eligibility for benefits to same-sex partners. For those who do not receive benefits through the PEBB, it depends upon your employer. The law does not require employers to offer domestic partner benefits.

The Washington Registry does not automatically recognize other registrations, legal marriages, or Civil Unions. You must register to have the Washington Registry benefits.

Records of state registered domestic partnerships are public, and subject to disclosure on request.

Registration Numbers

As of January 18, 2008, there were 3,246 Domestic Partnership registrations filed since the law took effect in July 2007, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Three partnerships had been dissolved.

As of April 25, 2008, 3,918 Domestic Partnership were registered.

As of November 2011, nearly 19,000 people in Washington state were registered as domestic partners.

2007 Benefits
  • Health care facility visitation rights.
  • Ability to grant informed consent for health care for a patient who is not competent.
  • Authority of health care providers to disclose information about a patient without the patient’s authorization to the patient’s state registered domestic partner.
  • Automatic revocation of the designation of a domestic partner as the beneficiary for non-probate assets upon termination of the partnership.
  • Automatic revocation of power of attorney granted to domestic partner upon termination of the partnership.
  • Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment.
  • Ability to authorize autopsies and request copies of autopsy reports and records.
  • Right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person.
  • Ability to consent to removal of human remains from a cemetery plot.
  • Ability to make anatomical gifts.
  • Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without a will.
  • Administration of an estate if the domestic partner died without a will or if the representative named in the will declined or was unable to serve.
  • Beneficiary rights in wrongful death actions.
  • Ability to designate a partner’s physician as the attorney-in-fact.
2008 Expanded Benefits and Liabilities
  • Financial information and gifts received by an elected official’s domestic partner are subject to public disclosure reporting requirements.
  • Domestic partners of elected officials may not be a member of the state commission on salaries.
  • DSHS must consider hardship to a person’s domestic partner when filing a lien against the person’s property as reimbursement for receiving medical assistance.
  • Domestic partners who are residents in long-term care facilities or nursing home may share the same room.
  • Abused same-sex domestic partner is considered a “victim” for purposes of services provided by the state-funded domestic violence shelter.
  • Contributory fault of a domestic partner is not imputed to other partner in civil actions.
  • Testimonial privilege applies to domestic partners.
  • Domestic partners are family for purpose of victim’s rights in the judicial process.
  • Domestic partners included in domestic violence protection statutes.
  • State colleges and universities may grant tuition waivers for veteran’s domestic partners.
  • Relief programs for indigent veterans and their families include veteran's domestic partners.
  • Community property statutes apply to domestic partners.
  • Domestic partner’s property is obligated to family expenses and education of the children.
  • Slayer statute prohibits inheritance by domestic partner perpetrator.
  • Homestead may consist of property owned by domestic partners.
  • Property assigned from one domestic partner to another under dissolution decree is exempt from real estate excise tax.
  • Property tax deferrals for eligible persons, such as senior citizens’ meeting certain criteria, extend to the person’s surviving domestic partner.
  • Procedures apply to domestic partners of incapacitated persons.
  • Domestic partner may file petition to determine whether power of attorney is in effect and may receive an accounting by an attorney-in-fact.
  • Domestic partners not named in a will that was made before registration of the domestic partnership is an omitted domestic partner for the purpose of intestate distribution.
  • Letters testamentary go to surviving domestic partner to administer community property.
  • Domestic partnerships must be terminated either by dissolution proceedings in court, or under limited circumstances, certification through the Secretary of State’s office.
  • Child Support, maintenance, and parenting plan obligations apply to domestic partners.
  • Domestic partnerships and civil unions from other states in which the parties meet the requirements of Washington's domestic partnerships are recognized in this state as domestic partnerships.
  • The Secretary of State must send notices to registered domestic partners informing them of the change in the law.

  • Share a common residence.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Not be married to, nor be in a state registered domestic partnership with, someone other than the person with whom they are entering into a domestic partnership.
  • Be capable of consenting to the partnership.
  • Not be nearer of kin than second cousins nor be a sibling, child, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew to the other person.
  • Be members of the same sex, or one of the persons must be at least 62 years of age.

Domestic partnerships are registered with the Office of the Secretary of State, Corporations Division. In contrast, legal marriages licenses are applied for through the county, not the state system, and are officiated by clerk, judges, justice of the peace, or clergy.

Registration Process

Registration may be done by mail or in person.

The registration form can be downloaded from the Washington State Corporations Division Web site:
      Information about State Registered Domestic Partnerships

Paper forms are also available at your local County Clerk’s office.

By Mail:

Registration fee: $50
      (This fee is the same throughout the state. By comparison, marriage license application fees depend on the county. The
      fee in Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and King Counties is $60. In Island County it is $51, and in Spokane County it is $57.)

Checks should be made payable to the Secretary of State Corporations Division and should be mailed to:
Office of the Secretary of State
Corporations Division
P.O. Box 40234
Olympia, WA 98504

Online registration is expected in the near future.

To register, a couple will need to:

  • Complete the “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” form.
  • Sign the declaration form in the presence of a notary public.
  • Submit the form and the filing fee to the Corporations Division.
In Person:

Complete your registration form in advance, either on your computer or by hand.

Corporations Division
James Dolliver Building
801 Capitol Way South, Olympia, Washington
8am-5pm - Monday-Friday

Registrations are effective on the day they are received by the Secretary of State, whether in person or by mail.

Those who register by mail should expect to receive their certificates and wallet cards back in approximately 1-2 weeks, depending on the volume of applications.

The wallet cards should not be required anywhere, but the Secretary of State wanted to provide couples with convenient proof of their registration.

Useful Web site from the Washington State Corporations Division:
      Domestic Partnerships: Frequently Asked Questions

Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage

    Netherlands (2001)
    Belgium (2003)
    Canada (2005)
    Spain (2005)
    South Africa (2005)
    Norway (2009)
    Sweden (2009)
    Iceland (2010)
    Argentina (2010)
    Portugal (2010)
    Denmark (2012)
    France (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    Brazil (2013)
    Uruguay (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    United Kingdom
      (England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
    Luxembourg (2014)
    Finland (2014)
    Ireland (2015)
    United States (2015)
    Colombia (2016)
    Germany (2017)
    Taiwan (2017)
    Malta (2017)
US States & Territories

    Massachusetts (2004)
    California (2008)
    Connecticut (2008)
    Iowa (2009)
    Vermont (2009)
    New Hampshire (2009)
    District of Columbia (2009)
    New York (2011)
    Maine (2012)
    Washington (2012)
    Maryland (2013)
    Rhode Island (2013)
    Delaware (2013)
    Minnesota (2013)
    Illinois (2013)
    Utah (2013)
    New Jersey (2013)
    Hawaii (2013)
    New Mexico (2013)
    Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Oregon (2014)
    Wisconsin (2014)

    Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Pennsylvania (2014)
    Indiana (2014)
    Nevada (2014)
    Virginia (2014)
    Oklahoma (2014)
    Idaho (2014)
    West Virginia (2014)
    Alaska (2014)
    Arizona (2014)
    Wyoming (2014)
    Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Florida (2014)
    Colorado (2014)
    North Carolina (2014)
    South Carolina (2014)
    Montana (2014)
    Alabama (2015)
    U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
      Ruling: All U.S. States must now
      allow same-sex couples the
      freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes

    Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
    Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
    Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
    Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
    Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
    Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
    Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
    Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
    Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
    Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
    Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
    Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
    Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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