Gay couples gain domestic partnership rights

OLYMPIA – Washington officially recognized the relationship of Kevin and Johnny McCollum-Blair on Monday.

The Everett men are carrying the proof.

“We’re in a new league now,” said Johnny McCollum-Blair as his partner showed a laminated card containing their names, the state seal and the registration number assigned their legally recognized domestic partnership.

“There’s a feeling of relief. There’s a feeling of more security in our lives,” he said. “We have protection and we can make choices for our partner.”

On Monday, the McCollum-Blairs were the seventh couple – and first from Snohomish County – to register in person under a new law giving same-sex couples a handful of rights automatically granted through legal marriage.

Couples gain such rights as being able to visit a partner in the hospital, make decisions about their medical care and inherit their property without a will.

“This is a huge step,” said Kevin McCollum-Blair. “With this we know that if something happens to one of us the other won’t have trouble getting into the hospital or deciding whatever it is the other needs.”

The law also applies to unmarried heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is 62 or older. Lawmakers did so to aid seniors who are at risk of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they marry.

Couples paid $50 to register. Each partner received a certificate and a laminated card containing the couple’s names, the date they registered and a state-assigned registration number.

A little after 7 a.m. Monday, under a gray sky and morning drizzle, gay and lesbian couples filled the steps leading into the secretary of state’s corporation division office.

By 8 a.m., more than 150 people counted down – “Five, four, three, two, one” – as the secretary of state’s corporation division opened for their business.

By the time Gary Hatle and Lee Wyman of Everett arrived in the late morning the lines were gone.

That didn’t make the moment any less significant.

“It’s just been the weirdest thing,” Hatle began. “It doesn’t make us feel any closer. It just makes us feel legal.

“We can reach into our pockets and say we’re a card-carrying couple,” he laughed.

“I’m anxious for the day we will be legal in all states, not just this one,” said Lee Wyman. “I look forward to the day I can say he is my husband.”

By about 6:30 p.m., 155 couples had registered.

Not everyone signed up in person.

Tulalip residents Bob Teichman and John Marsh mailed in their form last week.

“This is something for us. We are now officially partners in the eyes of the law,” said Teichman in a phone interview.

While conservative lawmakers and religious groups fought the law, none showed up to protest Monday.

Opponents, however, did vow to fight to preserve the state’s law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The state Supreme Court upheld Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act last year but left open the possibility of its rewriting by the Legislature – a course some lawmakers vow to take.

“The gay lobby and their supporters have stated over and over that they see this measure ‘as a beginning, not an end’ in their incremental strategy to secure full marriage rights for homosexual couples,” Larry Stickney, executive director of the newly formed Family Policy Institute of Washington, wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

“It is our hope that those seeking to validate an alternative lifestyle by redefining and rewriting civil-rights laws that further diminish authentic marriage will abandon all future efforts,” said Stickney, an Arlington resident and former top aide to Snohomish County Councilman John Koster.

Those registering their domestic partnerships pledged not to be deterred from gaining the legal right to marry.

“We do want it and it does matter,” said John Marsh of Tulalip.

“Is (domestic partnership) enough? For today it is,” said Kevin McCollum-Blair. “Tomorrow we start all over again.”

Hatle and Wyman, who’ve been together 51/2 years, said it’s an issue of fairness.

“We deserve equal rights not special rights,” Wyman said. “We are not asking for anything but to be recognized as people …”

“… Who fell in love and chose to spend their lives together,” Hatle said, completing his partner’s sentence.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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