Washington may grant rights to gay couples

? While efforts to legalize gay marriage have fizzled, the Washington Legislature is poised to give same-sex couples some of the same legal rights as married people.

The “domestic partnership” bill has cleared policy committees in the Senate and House, and the leader of an opposition group called Positive Christian Agenda conceded the measure can’t be stopped.

The bill would give gays, lesbians and unmarried seniors rights to visit a partner in the hospital, inherit property when there’s no will, and make decisions on such matters as emergency health care and funerals.

“It’s not the ability to marry that we would have wanted. But it is a step in the right direction,” said Kathy Cunningham, who fought unsuccessfully in court to marry her partner of more than a dozen years.

“I believe we have enough votes to pass it,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, a Spokane Democrat who supports the proposal.

There’s little doubt the bill will pass the House as well. More than half of the House members have signed on as co-sponsors. The measures are House Bill 1351 and Senate Bill 5336.

Opponents of the bill argue it gives same-sex partners some rights that siblings, for example, don’t have. They said the measure is a major step that would ultimately lead to the legalization of gay marriage.

“First you pass this, then you sue in court and get gay marriage,” said Joseph Fuiten, a pastor who leads the group Positive Christian Agenda. “The Democrats control it all and they are quite beholden to the homosexuals.”

California, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have domestic partner registries, according to Lambda Legal, the national gay rights group.