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State's new partner law is ‘a small step’

It wasn't quite a victory, but it was a start.

Rachel Smith-Mosel, 34, and Sandy Mosel, 48, returned to their Federal Way home Monday afternoon with a certificate and two shiny, plastic identification cards officially declaring their domestic partnership in Washington State.

"For me it's a small step. It's a baby step," said Sandy, who works as a youth director at a Jewish temple.

A new state law went into effect Monday morning allowing domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples over the age of 62. It isn't a marriage. Not even almost.

But still hundreds of couples lined up at the Secretary of State's office in Olympia to register. The new set of legal rights allow hospital visitation, funeral planning and property inheritance. It does not include a host of other rights afforded to married couples.

Rachel, a middle-school teacher, estimates she and her partner are denied 1,400 other rights afforded to married couples in the United States.

The couple still can't file their taxes together because the federal government doesn't recognize domestic partnerships, Rachel noted. The couple also wouldn't be exempt from testifying against one another in court as married couples are.

And if Rachel died, Sandy would be unable to maintain custody of Rachel's three biological children: 7-year-old Laura, 9-year-old Kyle and 12-year-old Brennan. The children enjoy having two moms, calling Rachel mom and Sandy "mummy." Their father is also active in their lives. The couple plan to adopt a foster child in August.

"I want to be excited about this and I am as a first step," said Rachel, who refers to her partner as her wife because the pair married legally in Canada and also locally in a Jewish ceremony.

Rachel said the state is headed the right direction, but she's holding-out on the celebration until gay marriage becomes legal.

"I know it's coming," she said. "My question is am I going to be in a walker at my wedding."

A domestic partnership is not a civil union, which offers the same rights as marriage. The rights afforded by domestic partnerships effect a couple in times of sickness or death, Rachel said. She and her wife are healthy.

"My life, living, isn't really impacted by this," she said. "Basically this is so that you can die in peace."

Rachel noted that before domestic partnerships were legal, she could have been excluded from her wife's hospital room in the event of a tragic accident. Now, she must present a card to be authorized.

"Why do I have to ask the state's permission to be able to take care of her," she asked. "That seems like cruel and unusual punishment."

In Canada, where gay marriage became legal in 2004, gay couples are afforded completely equal rights to heterosexual couples, Sandy noted. The couple married there but the union holds no weight when they cross the U.S. border.

"Their society hasn't fallen down," Sandy said about Canada, where she holds citizenship. She remains in the United States with a visa.

"The world didn't fall apart and Canada's still there," Sandy said.

All the details about domestic partnerships are still to be ironed out, Rachel said. What is clear is that it is far from marriage.

"Basically I've just gone to the state and said 'Hey, that's me, I'm a second-class citizen,'" Rachel lamented. "I'm an American citizen and it is my birthright to have full, equal rights under the law."

Staff writer Margo Horner: 925-5565, mhorner@fedwaymirror.com

FAST FACTS:

To register as domestic partners, both partners must:

-Share a common residence

-Both be at least 18 years of age

-Not be married to, or in a registered domestic -partnership with someone else

-Be capable of consenting to the domestic partnership

-Not be nearer kin than second cousin

-Not be a sibling, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew to the other partner

-Either be of the same sex or one partner must be over 62 years of age.

Domestic partners receive rights to the following:

-Hospital visitation with their partner

-Participate in medical care decisions and receive health care information

-Administer the estate of a deceased partner

-Be recognized as a domestic partner on a deceased partner’s death certificate

-Authorize autopsies and anatomical gifts, and receive autopsy results

-Sue for wrongful death of their partner

-Inherit property from their partner and to administer their partner’s estate in the absence of a will.

-Burial in a plot owned by a domestic partner.

-Same sex partners receiving benefits through the Public Employee Benefit Board may be eligible for health insurance benefits.

The fee for registering or terminating a domestic partnership is $50.

Domestic partnerships are public record.

For more information about domestic partnerships or to register, visit www.secstate.wa.gov/corps/domesticpartnerships.

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