Richard Sturgill and James Malatak showed up at the Secretary of State's Office at 4 a.m. Monday ...ur hours before the doors opened...

OLYMPIA — Richard Sturgill and James Malatak showed up at the Secretary of State’s Office at 4 a.m. Monday — four hours before the doors opened.

They didn’t intend to be first in line to register as domestic partners under a new state law. They wanted to avoid the rush later on.

“We just wanted to get in today,” said Sturgill, 53, a nurse from Seattle.

More than 100 gay and lesbian couples took advantage of the new law Monday that gives them some of the rights granted to married couples, including the right to visit a partner in the hospital, inherit a partner’s property without a will and make funeral arrangements.

Couples also can register by mail.

To qualify, couples must file an affidavit of domestic partnership with the Secretary of State’s Office. The state then gives them a certificate with a state seal, and plastic cards that say, “State registered domestic partnership” and lists their names. On the back it cites the chapter where the law can be viewed.

No protesters were on hand Monday, but the Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor of Cedar Park Assembly of God church in Bothell and a prominent opponent of same-sex marriage, sent out a statement opposing the law.

“God’s law is established in the male-female relationship,” he said. “When the state acts to replace the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the Legislature, we are headed for an uncertain future, and that is putting the best face on it.”

Unmarried heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is 62 or older also can register as domestic partners. Lawmakers say older heterosexuals were included because they face the possibility of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry after a spouse dies.

Outside the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday, people were in a festive mood. By the time the door opened at 8 a.m., a line of couples stretched around the corner.

There were men in suits, women in wedding veils and cars festooned with signs that read: “Just registered!” One woman in a wedding dress stood through the sunroof of a car waving as it sped through downtown with its horns blaring.

“We love hanging out with other people. It’s a celebration for us,” said Barbara Gibson, 77, who was there with her partner, Carol McKinley, 67, of Olympia.

McKinley, echoing the sentiments expressed by many couples Monday, said that in addition to extending important rights to gays and lesbians, the new law is a symbolic victory for them as well.

“It represents to the people that the state itself is recognizing the importance of these couples,” she said. “I think it’s important just for social acceptance and validation of our acceptance.”

Sturgill and Malatak agreed.

“This is our state,” said Malatak, 65, who is retired. “I don’t want anything other people don’t have; I just want to be one of the guys.”

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882

or agarber@seattletimes.com