Gay couples line up to register domestic partnership

The new law gave lesbian and gay couples of Washington state enhanced rights including hospital visitation, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and the ability to inherit in the absence of a will so they lined up to register as domestic partners Monday.

The secretary of state's office registered the first couple shortly after opening its doors at 8 a.m.

A crowd of about 100 gathered outside the building counting down the minutes, then sent up a cheer as the doors were opened.

Couples that register as domestic partners do not get all the rights that traditionally married couples have, and the state's registry is not the same as civil unions offered to gay couples in other states.

The United States has a patchwork of gay marriage laws, with only Massachusetts allowing same-sex marriage, and a handful of other states recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships. Civil unions and same-sex marriage are unrecognized at the federal level.

In order to register, couples must share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else, and be at least 18.

About 85 couples were registered after the first hour Monday, with another 50 standing in a line that wrapped around the front of the secretary of state's office in downtown Olympia.

The first couple in line - Jim Malatak, 64, and Rick Sturgill, 53, of Seattle - said the partnership registry was a first step on the road toward full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

"Wonderful. Supremely wonderful," Malatak said after a state official stamped the couple's paperwork and issued their partnership certificate. "I hope this can be the model for young gays coming up."

The Legislature approved the new domestic partnerships this spring after the state Supreme Court last year upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage. The court ruled that state lawmakers had been justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.

In a provision similar to California law, unmarried, heterosexual senior couples also are eligible for domestic partnerships 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.