Same Sex Marriage in Washington

We were extremely happy to see same sex marriage passed by the voters in Washington State! It is just basic fairness – adults who love each other should be able to marry. There is no reason to discriminate against some couples because of their gender preferences.

I saw a post by Carol Betts, a friend who practices family law in Bellevue, that laid out some important points about what this change in the law means:

  • “A few critical things to know about marriage in Washington starting today:
    1. Marriage is Marriage – no modifiers are necessary.
    2. Any couple who is legally married in another jurisdiction is married for purposes of Washington law starting today.
    3. Federal laws like immigration, tax and federal employee benefits do not apply in marriages of same sex couples because of the federal Defense of Marrige Act.
    4. Registered Domestic Partnerships will automatically convert to marriages on June 30, 2014 unless one of the partners is age 62 or older.
    5. Whether you are planning to marry or not, if you are in a committed relationship with a person of the same sex, there are plenty of good reasons to consult with an attorney. One or two hours of your time and a little bit of money could save a lot of grief down the road.”

One thing that Carol did not mention, but is important to know, is that a marriage of a same sex couple that is performed in Washington may not be recognized in other states or countries that do not allow same sex marriages. A couple could be married here in Washington, but move to another state and discover that they are treated by the law there like an unmarried couple. This can have profound implications for issues like child custody, spousal support, etc. There is still a great deal of work to be done to get other jurisdictions to recognize these marriages.

I have also noticed an interesting change that is already showing up in the state forms we use for divorce cases. References to “husband” and “wife” are being taken out and replaced with “petitioner” and “respondent”, or in some cases “spouse”, to make the forms more gender neutral.