After a highly publicized debate, the Washington Domestic Partnership Law ("WDPL") was passed by Washington voters in November 2009 and it became effective on December 3, 2009. The WDPL affords all the rights of a married couple to two state-registered domestic partners (each an "SRDP") in a state-registered domestic partnership. The benefits of the WDPL apply to same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples where one person is at least 62 years old. A domestic partnership becomes "state-registered" when two people register their partnership with the Secretary of State. The provisions of the WDPL extend to same-sex domestic partnerships (but not heterosexual domestic partnerships) that were validly created in another state with laws that are "substantially equivalent" to the WDPL. As of today, Washington employers must afford the protections of the WDPL to domestic partnerships registered in the following states: California, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Nevada and Oregon. It is important to note here that Washington does not recognize same-sex marriages from other states; only registered domestic partnerships. So, what does this all mean? It means that it is a good time for employers to revisit all policies to ensure that the policies accommodate an employee's SRDP and treat an employee's SRDP in the same way it would treat another employee's spouse, including equal provision of benefits (e.g., insurance, leave, etc.). Failure to accommodate an employee's SRDP may result in a discrimination claim against the employer.
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