Washington voters approved Referendum 71, making history for LGBT families

Washington state voters have approved Referendum 71, keeping a law that expands state benefits for registered same-sex and some senior domestic partners.

With about 72 percent of the expected vote counted Thursday in unofficial returns, Referendum 71 was leading 52 percent to 48 percent, with a margin of about 60,000 votes.

The measure asked people to approve or reject the latest expansion of the new state law that Gov. Chris Gregoire signed in May granting same sex domestic partners all the rights of married couples. That same month conservative interests announced they would attempt to overturn the new law and enough signatures were collected enough to place R-71 on the November ballot.

The original domestic partnership law, backed by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, two years ago, provided inheritance rights in cases where there was no will, hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations. About 6,000 domestic partnership registrations have been filed since July 2007.

Two national gay rights groups — the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Family Equality Council — say that voter approval of such a measure was a first. Gay equality laws in other states, ranging from civil rights to gay marriage, have either been implemented by the courts or legislative process. Voters have rejected gay marriage 31 states, most recently in Maine, where voters repealed a gay marriage law on Tuesday.

"Our state made history today," said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, which fought to keep the law on the books. "This is a day for which we can all look back with pride."

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