Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Saturday a measure to create domestic partnerships, giving gay and lesbian couples some of the same rights that come with marriage.
The law creates a domestic partnership registry and provides enhanced rights for same-sex couples, including hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will.
"It offers the hope that one day, all lesbian and gay families will be treated truly equal under the law," said state Sen. Ed Murray, who is one of five openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature.
To be registered, couples have to share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else and be at least 18.
Unmarried, heterosexual senior couples will also be eligible to register if one partner is at least 62. Lawmakers said that provision was included to help seniors who are at risk of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry.
The new law will take effect in July. It comes nearly a year after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.
Only Massachusetts allows gay marriage.
The rights granted to registered domestic partners would include: Health-care facility visitation rights. Ability to grant consent for health care for a partner who is not competent. Health care providers could disclose patient information to the patient's partner. Automatic revocation of a domestic partner as the beneficiary for nonprobate assets if the partnership ends. Automatic revocation of power of attorney granted to a domestic partner if the partnership ends. Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of interment. Right to control disposition of a deceased partner's remains, including right to make anatomical gifts, authorize autopsies and consent to remove partner's remains from a cemetery plot. Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without a will. Administration of an estate if the domestic partner dies without a will or if the named representative declines or is unable to serve. Making domestic partners beneficiaries of wrongful-death actions. Lawsuits for wrongful death could be brought on behalf of a surviving domestic partner. Requiring that information recorded on death certificates include domestic partnership status.