The next step in fairness for gay and lesbian domestic partners is a range of health and other benefits for federal employees and their partners. A new bill aimed at accomplishing that deserves support.

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Public attitudes toward gay and lesbian domestic partners grow more accepting every day. A logical next step is a proposed law providing domestic-partner benefits for federal employees.

Americans are ready, or should be, for a fair-minded adjustment of federal policy. Recognizing domestic partners by providing health and other benefits would be a timely skip forward on the continuum of change.

The law, introduced with the aid of two Republicans, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, would provide federal health insurance and enhanced dental and vision benefits, retirement and disability benefits, and family, medical and emergency leave. In other words, benefits married couples enjoy.

An increasing number of courts and legislatures support gay marriage or civil unions. Gay marriage eventually will become a fact of life because younger voters favor such unions.

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Most Fortune 500 companies, numerous states and local governments offer domestic-partner benefits. The federal government should not be so far behind it cannot provide equitable treatment.

In Washington state, Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed the “everything but marriage” bill giving gay and lesbian domestic partners benefits, including insurance rights and unemployment and disability-insurance benefits.

Kudos to the governor for signing the bill. Our state has been moving slowly toward full recognition of domestic partners — in sync with the values of most Washingtonians.

The state’s new law may be challenged by citizens’ Referendum 71 if a coalition of conservative groups gathers sufficient signatures by late July. Fair-minded voters should decline to sign to avoid an unnecessary cultural war.

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