OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Saturday a measure to create domestic partnerships, giving gay and lesbian couples some of the same rights that come with marriage.
The law creates a domestic partnership registry and provides enhanced rights for same-sex couples, including hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will.
``It offers the hope that one day, all lesbian and gay families will be treated truly equal under the law,'' said state Sen. Ed Murray, who is one of five openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature.
To be registered, couples have to share a home, not be married or in a domestic relationship with someone else and be at least 18.
Unmarried, heterosexual senior couples will also be eligible to register if one partner is 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.
The new law will take effect in July. It comes nearly a year after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage in a 5-4 decision, ruling that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.