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Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation Saturday recognizing domestic partnership status for same-sex couples. The law guarantees gay and lesbian couples some of the legal rights that previously were afforded only to husband and wife. To be considered a legally recognizable domestic partnership, couples must be over the age of 18, live together and not be in a domestic relationship with anyone else. The legislation also introduces a state wide domestic partnership registry and affords same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to authorize medical decisions for their partner. The registry will also include heterosexual couples with one partner over the age of 62. Many of these couples have been hesitant to marry because of the repercussions for their pension or social security benefits.

The Washington State Senate and House of Representatives approved the bill in March and early April respectively. 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. The bill is the latest step in Washington's pioneering stance on gay civil rights which includes a revision of the state's Civil Rights Act to include the phrase "sexual orientation" among the classes of people protected from discrimination in housing, lending, and employment.


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