OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Washington state residents were voting Tuesday whether to approve the state's new "everything but marriage" law or to roll back more than 200 rights and benefits granted to thousands of gay and senior couples.
As of Wednesday morning, The Seattle Times reported the measure winning by a slim margin, with more votes to be counted in counties favoring the expansion.
Referendum 71 asks voters to approve or reject the final expansion to the state's domestic partnership law, which grants registered domestic partners additional state-granted rights currently given only to married couples.
Opponents of the new law say it is a threat to traditional marriage. Supporters of gay rights say same-sex couples need additional legal protections and rights.
The expanded law would add benefits, such as the right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner, and rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.
The law was supposed to take effect July 26, but now will go on the books only if approved by voters. If rejected, previously enacted legislation on domestic partnerships would remain in place.
The underlying domestic partnership law, which the Legislature passed in 2007, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will. Under state law, senior couples can register as domestic partnerships as well.
Last year, lawmakers expanded that law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.
More than 12,000 people in Washington state are registered as domestic partners. Most of the couples are gay.
Washington state, along with several other states, including California, Oregon and New Jersey, have laws that either recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford same-sex couples similar rights to marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, and will start in New Hampshire in January. A referendum in Maine on Tuesday will determine the fate of a same-sex marriage bill passed by the Legislature in May.