Same-sex marriage: What lies ahead?

Couples expected from out of state; Clark County officials revising forms

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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What happens to Washington’s same-sex domestic partners?

There are more than 400 active domestic partnerships in Clark County. Some are same-sex couples; others are opposite-sex couples 62 and older.

With legalization of same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships for same-sex couples will sunset, unless they are 62 and older, said Pam Floyd, director of the state Division of Corporations and Charities in the Secretary of State’s Office. Domestic partnerships will continue for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples 62 and older, without action on their part. The only way the partnership would dissolve is if the couple opted to wed, Floyd said.

Same-sex domestic partnerships, except among the 62-and-older group, will automatically convert into marriages on June 30, 2014, without the couple taking any action. If a couple would like to dissolve their domestic partnership, they must do so through their county court by either getting married or ending the partnership, akin to filing for a divorce.

The Secretary of State’s Office will send out a letter to everyone in registered domestic partnerships to explain the law. (See below)

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Domestic partnership law

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Same-sex couples from other states, largely Oregon, are likely to take advantage of Washington's same-sex marriage law when it takes effect Dec. 6, even if their home state doesn't recognize the union.

That's been the trend in the six other states where same-sex marriage has been already legal, said Stuart Gaffney, spokesman for Marriage Equality U.S.A., a national nonprofit advocacy organization.

Vancouver chiropractor Seth Hutton said before voters affirmed Washington's same-sex marriage law, he and his partner, Alvin Black, had considered marrying in New York, where gay marriage has been legal since last year.

"We have put off getting married in New York in hope that (Referendum 74) passed, and we can marry in our home state with our family present," Hutton said.

"Couples coming from out of state aren't just getting a legal certificate," Gaffney said. "They're taking home the experience of a wedding day when their relationship was treated with dignity, respect and equality, and that is a life-changing experience."

The Clark County's Marriage License Department isn't beefing up its staff Dec. 6 — the first day same-sex couples can apply for marriage licenses — but Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said he expects a longer line than usual that day. A mandatory three-day waiting period means the soonest same-sex couples can marry is Dec. 9, Kimsey said.

Courthouse rush?

When same-sex marriage was briefly allowed in Multnomah County in 2004, there was a rush on the courthouse. Gaffney said he expects something more moderate in Washington on Dec. 6.

"What happened in Multnomah County … felt very fragile," Gaffney said. "There was a sense that this might be taken away. There was an urgency people felt that it might be their last chance. If you think about the lines that formed, they were very celebratory, but they were very emotional. At any moment, a court order might come down, so we don't have a moment to lose. The scene I envision in Washington will be calmer because this is the final lap. It won't feel like it's a limited-time offer."

The plans of some same-sex couples in Clark County reflect that sense of security in the permanence of their new right. Hutton and Black are waiting until June 9 to wed.

Vancouver domestic partners Ty Stober and Lamar Bryant said they plan to marry on their 10-year anniversary June 20.

But others plan to marry on the day the law is effective.

Same-sex couple Kelly Keigwin and Sam MacKenzie said they plan to apply for a marriage license on the first day.

"We don't want to take any risk and lose our chance," Keigwin said. "We value the right of marriage. We want it as soon as we can have it."

The new law, however, still hasn't put same-sex couples on equal footing with their opposite-sex counterparts.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act still denies same-sex couples more than 1,000 marriage rights many straight couples aren't even aware they have, said Gaffney of Marriage Equality U.S.A.

Same-sex couples can't file a federal joint tax return. They have to pay federal estate and gift taxes when they share or leave each other assets. If they travel to a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, they may not be entitled to hospital visitation rights or the ability to make medical decisions for each other in the case of an emergency.

Watershed moment

Nonetheless, Tuesday, Nov. 6, was a watershed moment because it marked the first time voters, rather than a legislature or court, approved same-sex marriage, Gaffney said.

"Marriage is important to us because it recognizes that because we support each other, our relationship benefits the community," said Stober of Vancouver. "From a larger perspective, approving Referendum 74 will tell the world that Washington state values all its families."

"People in Oregon are closely monitoring what is happening, and success will play a big role in determining their strategy going forward," Stober added. "Additionally, Washington's approval would put increased pressure on the Supreme Court as they take up challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act during this term."

The Clark County Auditor's Office is working on revising marriage licenses, applications and certificates to reflect the same-sex option, said Auditor Greg Kimsey. Forms currently call for a bride and groom. Those titles will be changed to "spouse."

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.