The Washington state House has passed a bill that would create domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, and the measure now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law.
The bill, which passed the Senate last month, passed the House Tuesday on a 63-35 vote.
Supporters said the measure was needed to "provide some relief, some remedy, some humanity" to couples in need.
"I wish we were here to talk about marriage," said Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle and one of five openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature. "Unfortunately we are not. Married couples receive over 400 rights, responsibilities and privileges, but same-sex couples are prohibited from doing this."
Opponents argued it was a "marriage light" bill that would dilute traditional marriage.
"For the first time, we're providing an alternative to marriage for a man and woman," said Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way. "Heterosexual marriage is in trouble, people, and it's getting worse. What are we saying to our next generation, our children? We're saying marriage doesn't mean anything."
The bill would create a domestic partnership registry with the state, and would provide enhanced rights for same-sex couples, including hospital visitation right, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will.
To be registered, couples would have to share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else, and be at least 18.
Also applies to heterosexual seniors
Similar to California law, unmarried, heterosexual senior couples would also be eligible for domestic partnerships if one partner were 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.
A handful of amendments failed, including one that would have required a vote of the people, and another that would have included all people who care for others, including grandparents and siblings.
The domestic partnership measure is Senate Bill 5336.