By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
Some couples in Washington face big decisions because of the state’s new same-sex marriage law.
Do they want to be married, or call it quits?
As of Wednesday, there were 9,949 domestic partnerships registered with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. Under the new law, domestic partnerships will automatically convert to marriages June 30, 2014, unless they are dissolved first.
There is an exception in the law voters approved last month. When at least one partner is 62 or older, regardless of sexual orientation, the state-registered domestic partnership will continue, and that option be available after June 2014.
Washington’s domestic partnership law took effect in 2007. The provision for seniors was included because of their risk of losing pension and Social Security benefits if they marry.
Since the marriage law took effect Dec. 6, names of same-sex couples have appeared not only in public records for marriage licenses, but also for dissolutions. At least 10 of 99 couples in Sunday’s Herald vital statistics section for Snohomish County marriage licenses were same-sex pairs. Listed under dissolutions in Sunday’s paper was at least one same-sex pair out of 43 couples.
Statewide, there have been 624 domestic partnerships ended as of Wednesday, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
At the Snohomish County Clerk’s Office, chief deputy clerk Kathleen Gunn said Wednesday that about 30 domestic partnerships were dissolved in our county in 2011, and 37 were ended this year. They fall under three categories: dissolution with children, dissolution without children, and dissolution of a committed relationship.
There are typically 230 to 260 divorces in Snohomish County each month, Gunn said. With the passage of the same-sex marriage law, she said, the county won’t track statistics for same-sex dissolutions.
“They’re just being treated exactly the same, nothing different at all. They’re all dissolutions,” she said.
Brian Zylstra, deputy communications director with the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office has seen no noticeable change in the number of couples seeking to end domestic partnerships in recent weeks. That information would be provided to the state from county court dissolutions.
Under both the new and previous laws, Zylstra said, the secretary of state is not responsible for filing domestic partnership dissolutions, which, like divorces, are handled by the courts.
With so much attention on history-making marriages since Referendum 74 passed, it seems the partnership dissolution issue has been under the radar. Same-sex couples, after all, have more than a year to decide whether to marry or end official partnerships.
For one local couple who registered as domestic partners in 2007, there was no question about it.
Gary and Lee Hatle-Wyman were married at Everett’s Trinity Lutheran Church on Dec. 11, less than a week after the new law gave them a green light to become husband and husband.
“We were going to wait until Feb. 1,” Gary Hatle-Wyman said Wednesday. That’s the day they will celebrate 11 years together. “We decided to move up the marriage. We thought about it, and had been through so many things together. We wanted our pastor to marry us in a nice ceremony,” he said.
The Everett men were pictured on the front page of The Herald on July 24, 2007, when they were among the state’s first couples to register as domestic partners in Olympia. Gary Hatle-Wyman explained that when they got a marriage license earlier this month, they checked a box indicating that their domestic partnership would end.
He believes it’s too soon to highlight same-sex divorce. A newlywed, he is still celebrating an historic right they have awaited for years.
“People are just getting married now,” he said. “I like to focus on the positive.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information and resources regarding domestic partnerships and the new same-sex marriage law: