Domestic partnerships will end for some couples

They will continue for those 62 and older

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter



Domestic partnerships in Clark County

Total domestic partnerships: 399.

Opposite-sex partnerships with at least one partner 62 and older: 40.

Same-sex partnerships with at least one partner 62 and older: 43.

SOURCE: State Secretary of State and Columbian research

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The state House of Representatives’ historic vote Wednesday to make Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage will effectively make domestic partnerships extinct for the younger than 62 crowd. But domestic partnerships will live on for couples 62 and older.

Hence, what happens next for the state’s 9,333 domestic partnerships, 399 of which are in Clark County, rests largely on age.

Under existing law, both same-sex couples of all ages and opposite-sex couples 62 and older may form domestic partnerships. When same-sex marriage takes effect, barring challenges, domestic partnerships between people younger than 62 will automatically convert into marriages on June 13, 2014, without any action by or cost to them. Those couples have the option of marrying at any time before that at their local courthouse.

“I’m sure there will be couples who want to get married the first day,” said David Ward, legal and legislative counsel for Legal Voice advocacy group in Seattle. “Others will want to take time to plan their dream wedding. We’ve seen in other states a lot of people want to get married immediately.”

It costs $62 for a marriage license in Clark County, according to the county auditor’s website. If the couple doesn’t wish to be married, they will have to dissolve their partnership before June 13, 2014.

Domestic partnerships between people 62 and older will not change under the new law.

“They don’t need to do anything,” Ward said.

Their partnerships will not automatically convert into marriages. If they wish to marry, they will have to take action to do so.

Vancouver couple Joyce Colson, 63, and Linda Evans, 77, said they would like to convert their domestic partnership into a marriage.

“That would be the ideal thing,” Colson said. “I’ve been promoting the (same-sex marriage bills), but I haven’t looked into what we would have to do to transfer our domestic partnership to a marriage.”

Some couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex, may choose domestic partnerships over marriage because it allows them to continue collecting a pension or Social Security benefits from a deceased spouse, said Vancouver gerontologist Gail Haskett. Others may want to avoid upsetting their adult children by marrying again, among a host of other reasons, Haskett said.

“If one person is ill, there is a designated way for their partner to make medical and other decisions for them,” said Walt Bowen, president of the Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby.

Out of Clark County’s nearly 400 active domestic partnerships, 83 of them are between couples with at least one partner 62 or older, according to an analysis by The Columbian of Clark County’s registered domestic partnerships. Forty of those partnerships are between people of opposite sexes.

Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign the same-sex marriage law in the next five days. The following 90 days will usher in a period of limbo in which same-sex marriage opponents have the chance to petition for a referendum to overturn the law. They’ll have to gather at least 120,557 valid signatures to do so.

Barring a referendum, same-sex marriage will be legal June 7.

In order to prepare for that day, Clark County will need to change its electronic marriage license forms, said county Auditor Greg Kimsey.

“Electronic forms are set up for bride and groom, male and female,” Kimsey said.

Religious organizations will not be required to marry same-sex couples.

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