State’s gay marriage law to take effect next month

OLYMPIA — Washington voters have upheld a state law passed earlier this year allowing same-sex marriage in the state, and gay and lesbian couples can start marrying as early as next month.

With the passage of Referendum 74 this week, Washington is now one of nine states that have legalized gay marriage. Maine and Maryland approved same-sex marriage with public votes this week, and six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia had already enacted laws or issued court rulings that permit same-sex marriage.

R-74 asked people to approve or reject a state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire but has never taken effect. It was on hold pending the election’s outcome, but 53 percent of voters were approving it as of Friday as votes continued to be counted, and opponents conceded Thursday.

Here’s how Washington state and counties are preparing for the law taking effect on Dec. 6, and what same-sex couples can expect.

Marriage certificates: The state Department of Health is in the process of changing the language on marriage certificate and divorce forms. Currently, marriage certificates use the words “bride” and “groom.” Spokesman Tim Church said that they are proposing that it be changed to “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.” Church said they are also proposing that gender be added to the form so that the state, which already keeps track of the number of marriages and divorces in the state, can now break the data out to reflect same-sex marriages and dissolutions. A public meeting will be held on Nov. 28 to discuss the final language of the forms.

“It’s moving ahead quickly, because when the law goes into effect, we want to have that form ready,” he said. “We know the demand is there.”

County implementation: Counties started preparing earlier this year once the law was passed. Vicky Dalton, the Spokane County Auditor, was designated as a point person for all of the counties on preparing for same-sex marriage.

She said that many counties, especially urban ones like King County, will see a sizeable increase in volume on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7., especially because they’ll see couples who want to get their licenses and certificates in advance of Dec. 12, for the novelty 12-12-12 anniversary date.

“We’re going to have two waves hit us at the same time,” she said.

King County has already updated its website announcing that licenses for same-sex couples will be issued and saying details will be posted on the site soon.

Dalton said that there are essentially three forms involved for marriage: an application the couple fills out at the county, the license they are issued to give to the person who will officiate their wedding, and the certificate that is the actual marriage contract recorded by the state. She said most counties have already changed the language on their applications and licenses to reflect same-sex marriages, however, she’s worried that counties won’t have time to update their systems with the new certificate language based on the tight time frame between the Nov. 28 Department of Health meeting and when the law takes effect Dec. 6.

“With the implementation date, it’s unlikely all 39 counties will be able to get that programed into their system,” she said.

However, if that occurs, Dalton said counties would just issue the old forms instead of the new.

“We’ll be ready on Dec. 6 to be issuing marriage licenses and certificates to any couple that is qualified under the law,” she said.

Federal benefits: Married same-sex couples will still be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other government benefits available to heterosexual couples because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bars federal recognition of gay unions. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up gay marriage sometime during the current term. Several pending cases challenge the federal benefit provision of DOMA, and a separate appeal asks the justices to decide whether federal courts were correct in striking down California’s Proposition 8, the amendment that outlawed gay marriage after it had been approved by courts in the nation’s largest state.

Domestic partnerships: There are currently 9,901 domestic partnership registrations with the secretary of state’s office. Same-sex domestic partners have two years to either dissolve their relationship or get married. Most same-sex domestic partnerships that aren’t ended prior to June 30, 2014, would automatically become marriages. Domestic partnerships would remain for senior couples, both heterosexual and gay, where at least one partner is 62 years old or older. That provision was included in the state’s first domestic partnership law of 2007 to help heterosexual seniors who don’t remarry out of fear they could lose certain pension or Social Security benefits.

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