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Originally published October 2, 2009 at 2:39 PM | Page modified October 2, 2009 at 6:01 PM

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Approve Referendum 71 in the name of fundamental fairness for all Washington families

Voter approval of Referendum 71 will expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of Washington law to all committed couples and their families. No one loses when fairness and equality under the law are extended to all.

SECURING fundamental fairness for all Washington families requires voter approval of Referendum 71 on the November ballot.

The Seattle Times strongly endorses voter passage of legislation to expand rights for registered domestic partners. The law, already adopted by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, takes effect after a majority of voters mark "Approved."

At the heart of R-71 is an earnest desire to preserve families and equally protect children and adults in all committed relationships — in essence, to better take care of themselves. Here is how that is presented in the key portion of the ballot title:

"This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage. Should this bill be:

[ ] Approved [ ] Rejected"

That is the question before Washington voters. Inexplicably, opponents are counting on voter confusion to defeat the measure. This could not be more straightforward. Voting to approve the measure gives registered domestic partners the ability to navigate the legal pathways of modern life.

Ordinary people with ordinary family lives intersect with state law in hundreds of ways. The Legislature has helped with small, cumulative steps. Early adjustments dealt with humanitarian needs: hospital-visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and circumstances where a partner dies without a will.

A later round of legislative changes spoke to the long-term, committed nature of these bonds: same-sex domestic-partner rights in probate, trusts, community property and homestead exemptions. Also covered were guardianship and powers of attorney.

Last winter and spring, lawmakers in Olympia parsed through state statutes on business-succession rights and workers' compensation to make distant corners of the law — all the obligations and responsibilities as well as the rights and prerogatives — apply to adults in committed relationships.

Senate Bill 5688, the law referred to the public, addressed the mundane household mechanics of using sick leave to care for a domestic partner, and other rules and regulations covering wages and benefits, insurance rights, adoption, child custody and child support.

The legislation addresses the rights and obligations that go with holding a family together through life's bumps and bruises. Vitally important, but hardly radical adjustments.

Nothing is taken away from one person, one couple or one family and given to another. This is about equal treatment for all Washington residents going about their private lives.

Approval of R-71 enjoys strong support from many of the region's largest employers, community groups, professional organizations and civic associations.

A statement released on behalf of major employers Boeing, Microsoft, Nike, Puget Sound Energy, RealNetworks and Vulcan Development — said that overturning years of progress on equal rights in Washington would not be in the best interest of the state.

That sentiment holds across the state, on both sides of the Cascades. A University of Washington report found growing support for domestic-partnership rights. In essence, there is no perceived threat to one's own personal relationship.

Referendum 71 is about loving couples — our relatives, friends and neighbors — who own property, operate businesses and take care of their children. State law, as now written, makes that harder to do.

Approve R-71, for fairness and equality for all Washington families.

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