State to convert same-sex partners into marriage

SEATTLE — Washington state plans to convert thousands of same-sex partners into married couples on June 30, if they haven’t gotten married on their own or dissolved their union by then.

This change is the final piece of the state’s same-sex marriage law, but it’s a provision many couples are unaware of and some may not even like, The Seattle Times reported.

Some couples may have broken up years ago and are now married — illegally — to other people. Some live in other states where their partnerships are not recognized and dissolution is not possible.

By mid-to-late March, the Secretary of State’s Office plans to send out notices to those in the domestic-partnership registry, alerting them to the pending change.

As of Friday, an estimated 6,500 same-sex couples remained in the state registry.

Some may be couples like Seattle’s Jason Bennett and Michael Whaley, together 15 years, who had a big commitment ceremony and celebration eight years ago, and who now plan to simply let their domestic partnership roll into marriage.

“If you have been together a long period of time and consider yourselves married, going around the block a second time feels more technical,” said Bennett, 40, a Democratic political consultant.

Bennett said he and his partner debated for a year about their potential wedding. “I think at this point, we’ll just let it roll,” he said.

Pam Floyd, corporations director in the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees domestic-partnership registrations, said they expect there are some scenarios they haven’t thought of. They will handle them on a case-by-case basis, she said, acknowledging that this idea is new to everyone.

Washington lawmakers authorized domestic partnerships in 2007, five years before same-sex marriages became legal. The law granted a range of marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples, as well as to heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is 62.

At its peak, just before same-sex marriage became legal, some 10,000 couples were in registered domestic partnerships.

The same-sex marriage law signaled an end to domestic-partnership arrangements for most gay couples, giving them until June 30 of this year to either marry or dissolve their union — a process not unlike a divorce.

Some 691 couples — gay and straight — have had their domestic partnerships dissolved in the nearly seven years since that law took effect.

The June 30 conversion won’t affect senior couples in registered domestic partnerships — gay or straight. Beginning July 1, domestic partnerships will remain an option only for them.

Those still in civil unions in Connecticut and New Hampshire also were converted into married couples after those states passed same-sex marriage laws.

California, meanwhile, retained domestic partnerships for all couples — gay and straight — recognizing that some states would honor such unions even if they didn’t sanction gay marriage.

In Washington, even those whose domestic partnerships are converted to marriage without their express permission will find that the process for ending both is essentially the same. Problems may arise when those couples are living in a state that doesn’t recognize either kind of union.

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