The Legislature's passage of the Domestic Partners Expansion bill is another step toward the place Washington is heading and needs to be: recognition of these committed relationships for what they are, loving, lawful marriages. Marriages without adjectives or categories.

PASSAGE of the Domestic Partners Expansion bill moves Washington quietly, purposefully and rightfully down a path toward full recognition of same-sex unions for what they are, marriages.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature on the legislation, which passed both houses of the Legislature with strong support, is part of a cycle of progress that began in 2007 with the creation of a registry for domestic partners. Last year and this year, lawmakers provided these families with the legal prerogatives granted to spouses.

Think of these events as a contemporary version of wedding banns, three successive announcements of an intended wedding. The Human Rights Campaign counts from more than 400 rights and responsibilities in Washington law that now apply to registered domestic partners.

Most all of the civil mechanics of a marriage — the legal structure with all its complexities — are in place. The latest fine tuning of any couples’ legal rights and options narrows in on survivor benefits and inheritance procedures.

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Those refinements built on earlier foundations of rights in probate, trusts, community property, guardianship and powers of attorney. Earlier still were enunciations of hospital visitation rights, authority in medical decisions and basic financial considerations for committed couples.

Marriage is the institution that socializes couples and families into a community. Consider that marriage has at least three elemental features: a loving relationship, a legal definition and societal recognition.

Domestic partners are supporting one another and raising families. In the eyes of the law, they have the rights and responsibilities that come with a committed relationship. Lawmakers anxious about the state’s imprimatur of social approval need to catch up the public.

The community, and especially its younger cohorts, only see loving couples and children being raised by parents who love them. Over time, they have become remarkably unremarkable.

Official recognition of these marriages — these families — is a logical and overdue step.