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Published: Sunday, October 11, 2009, 12:01 a.m.

Approve law to protect families from real harm

Imagine you get a call at work and you learn that a member of your family has been in a severe car accident or diagnosed with a terrible disease. It may take months for this family member to recover. Or, perhaps, they have been given only a few weeks to live. And you have no family medical leave you can take without the risk of losing your job.
It's a scenario that haunts thousands of families in domestic partnerships across the state of Washington. And it's a sober reminder of why voters should approve Referendum 71 on Election Day to retain our state's domestic partnership law passed by the Legislature in 2009.
Domestic partnership laws are designed to protect families from real harm. And this is not the first time Washington lawmakers like myself have been inspired to act and protect families.
Consider the cases of Charlene Strong of Seattle and Janice Langbehn of Lacey, which have captured national headlines because each of these families was pushed aside when their loved ones needed them most.
Janice Langbehn and Lisa Marie Pond planned a family cruise with their children in 2007 to celebrate the couple's 18 years together. Lisa suffered a massive stroke before the ship left port in Florida and was taken to a local hospital. Even with the legal proof of power of attorney, the hospital denied Janice access to Lisa as she lay dying. Janice was only allowed into the hospital room for a few minutes while a priest read Lisa her last rites. Lisa later died.
Charlene Strong's partner, Kate Fleming, became trapped in a flooded basement during a horrific rainstorm on Dec. 14, 2006. Charlene, like any loved one, rushed to the hospital to be by her side, but hospital officials refused to allow Charlene into the room. Despite the heroic efforts of Charlene and firefighters to get Kate out of the flooded basement, Kate later died at the hospital. Charlene's access to Kate required the intervention of Kate's sister. Kate and Charlene were together for more than 10 years.
There are 12,000 people registered in domestic partnerships across the state of Washington. The domestic partnership law (Senate Bill 5688) passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, ensures that all families have the protections they need to be treated equally under the law, especially in times of crisis.
There has been a lot of confusion about how to vote on Referendum 71. That confusion is exactly what opponents are counting on in an effort to derail it. They are hoping that a costly campaign, confusion and low-voter turnout in an off-year election will be enough to stop these essential protections for Washington families.
It's time to stop the confusion and remind people why we must approve R-71. The domestic partnership law provides critical protections for seniors who want to protect their hard-earned private pensions, military pensions and Social Security. This law ensures that the firefighters and police officers who risk their lives to protect their communities will know that their families will be protected by death benefits if they are killed in the line of duty. But most importantly, families will have peace of mind knowing that they have the protections they need for the people they love most.
This law is clear — domestic partnerships are not marriage. Referendum 71 is simply intended to ensure that every Washington family receives the same legal protections.
In these tough economic times, every family in our state deserves the same basic protections. When it comes to providing a safe and loving place for a child, or for a couple that wants to enjoy their golden years together, these families should not be treated as second-class citizens. This is why religious leaders, the business community, and thousands of our fellow citizens are supporting Referendum 71.
Many people have worked hard to get this legislation passed and signed into law. And the reason is simple: approving R-71 protects all families equally under the law.

State Rep. Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) represents the 21st Legislative District.

R-71 ballot title

The legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.

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 or rejected?

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