ALERT: Washington State Recognizes Rights of Individuals in Domestic Partnerships

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“This measure will provide many vital protections to same-sex couples in committed relationships. Its passage is an exciting first step toward the ultimate goal of marriage for all couples.”
-ACLU Legislative Director Jennifer Shaw

On July 23, 2007, more than 150 gay and lesbian couples filed to  become State Registered Domestic Partners, under a new law enacted in Washington State. The new law, which took effect July 22, 2007, grants domestic partners some of the rights afforded to married couples under Washington law. Washington’s domestic partners law follows similar legislation enacted by Vermont, Connecticut, New  Jersey, California, Maine and Hawaii.

Background

State law provides a number of rights and powers to spouses who are married. For example, a spouse has rights with respect to visitation of a patient in a health care facility. Additionally, health care providers can obtain informed consent for a patient who is not competent from the  patient’s spouse. Health care providers can also disclose information about a patient without the patient’s authorization to immediate family
members. Spouses are also protected regarding the following rights: title to cemetery plots and rights of interment; authority to consent to  autopsies and make anatomical gifts; and when an individual dies  intestate, his or her spouse has certain rights of inheritance and rights  to administer the decedent’s estate. A spouse also has the ability to bring an action for a wrongful death claim in the event of an individual’s death.

Upon dissolution or invalidation of a marriage, the designation of a  spouse as the beneficiary for various nonprobate assets is  automatically revoked. Similarly, upon dissolution, invalidation or legal separation, an individual grant of power of attorney is revoked.

State Registered Domestic Partners

“It represents to the people that the state itself is recognizing the importance of these couples, I think it’s important just for social  acceptance and validation of our acceptance.”
-Carol McKinley, Olympia, Law Lets Couples Be “Partners”
Seattle Times, July 24, 2007.

Under the new law, same-sex couples and different-sex couples with at least one partner age 62 or older, can register as domestic partners.  Individuals seeking to enter into a state registered domestic  partnership must satisfy the following requirements:

  • share a common residence;
  • be at least 18 years of age;
  • not be in a marriage or a domestic partnership with another person;
  • be capable of consenting to the partnership; and
  • not be close blood relatives.

Registering as Domestic Partners

In order to register as a domestic partnership, both partners must sign  a “Declaration of State Registered Domestic Partnership” form and  have the form notarized. The declaration form is available from the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia, and is also available online at: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/corps/domesticpartnerships/. The form and a $50 filing fee may be delivered in person to the Corporations  Division, Office of the Secretary of State, 801 Capitol Way South,  Olympia, or may be mailed to the Office of the Secretary of State,  Corporations Division, P.O. Box 40234, Olympia, WA 98504.

Extension of Rights to Domestic Partners Under the Law

 “Twenty years ago if you had told me there would be a law that would do this, I’d have told you ‘you’re crazy,’ it’s a great step forward as far as I’m concerned.”
-John McCluskey, Tacoma, Law Lets Couples Be “Partners”
Seattle Times, July 24, 2007.

Certain powers and rights granted to spouses are granted to domestic partners registered under the domestic partnership law. They include  the following:

  • Right of health care facility visitations;
  • Ability to grant informed consent for health care for a patient who is not competent;
  • Ability to receive health information about a partner;
  • Automatic revocation of the designation of a domestic partner as the beneficiary for certain nonprobate assets upon termination of the  partnership;
  • Automatic revocation of power of attorney granted to domestic partner upon termination of the partnership;
  • Ability to administer a deceased partner’s estate;
  • Recognition on partner’s death certificate;
  • Ability to authorize autopsies, request copies of autopsy reports and records, and make anatomical gifts;
  • Right to control the disposition of remains;
  • Beneficiary rights in wrongful death actions;
  • Right to inheritance when partner dies intestate;
  • Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment; and
  • For State employees ONLY, health insurance.

Rights Reserved for Marriage Under the Law

“We consider this a step toward marriage, this isn’t an end.”
-State Sen. Ed Murray, D- Seattle, Law Lets Couples Be “Partners”
Seattle Times, July 24, 2007.

While the new law provides some important emergency protections to couples, it also withholds important rights and responsibilities that are  granted to married couples. As a result, lawmakers and advocacy   groups continue to work toward the goal of marriage equality.

The new domestic partnership law does not grant the following rights and responsibilities of marriage to domestic partnerships:

  • Access to family court for dissolution;
  • Ability to file joint tax returns;
  • Health insurance and other employment benefits (except for State employees);
  • Right not to testify against a spouse;
  • Spousal support;
  • Joint responsibility for debt;
  • Community property;
  • All federal rights and protections; and
  • Automatic respect for the relationship in other states.

Currently, only the state of Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry, and that state does not issue marriage licenses to non-resident couples unless their home state allows them to marry. In addition, rights and responsibilities granted to same-sex couples are governed by the unique laws of each particular state. As a result, couples who live  part-time in different jurisdictions or who own property in different states may wish to take advantage of state laws by registering for  domestic partnerships, civil unions or marriages under the applicable  state laws. States that recognize same-sex marriage, civil unions or  similar legal status are listed in the chart below. For a more  comprehensive analysis of marriage issues in Washington State, visit   the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington’s website at:  http://www.lmaw.org.
Relationship Recognition for Same-Sex Couples by State 2007
State

 State

*Laws have
not yet gone
into effect

 Residency
Requirement
Resident status
required to
register
 Domestic
Partnership
Relationship
recognition for
same-sex
couples
 Civil Unions
Relationship
recognition for
same-sex
couples
 Marriage
Licenses for
same-sex
couples
 Honors
Marriage
(Validly enter
into) of samesex
couples
from other
jurisdictions
 California  X
 Connecticut  X
 Hawaii  X
 Maine  X  X
 Massachusetts  X  X  X
 New Hampshire  X*
 New Jersey  X  X  X
 New York N/A  X
 Oregon  X*
 Rhode Island  N/A  X
 Vermont  X*
 Washington  X

What to Consider before Registering as Domestic Partners

Some couples might be advised not to register as domestic partners as the law could actually create problems for them. For example, if  either partner is in the military, you may not want to register because the state list is considered public information. In addition, if one partner is a foreign national without legal status, registering could jeopardize his/her status depending on his/her visa status. Some visas are issued upon the condition that a person does not intend to stay in the United  States permanently, and registering as domestic partners may be  interpreted as a violation of the condition. Similarly, a couple may be  advised not to register as domestic partners if either partner receives  public assistance, or if either partner does not want new legal rights and mutual responsibilities in the areas listed under the Extension of Rights section.

This newsletter provides general information, not legal advice. For  more information on this topic, please contact any of our Trusts, and Estates attorneys or your personal Karr Tuttle Campbell attorney, all of whom may be reached at 206-223-1313.

 

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