New marriage form offers traditional and gender-neutral choices

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A new marriage certificate form, approved by the state Department of Health Thursday, offers traditional and gender-neutral labels for newlyweds to reflect the introduction Dec. 6 of gay marriage.

Each applicant may choose whether he or she is a "bride," "groom" or "spouse." Another field on the certificate asks for the sex of each spouse. That will allow the health department to count gay marriages, information that's likely to interest public policy makers, businesses, journalists and researchers.

The soon-to-be defunct marriage certificate offered just "bride" and "groom" options, and applicants didn't have to denote their sex.

"We were trying to come up with a form that respected bride and groom but also gave an option for people who don't see themselves in those terms," said Tim Church, health department spokesman. "You could have bride and bride."

A month after Washington voters upheld a law passed by the state Legislature earlier in the year to allow gay couples to wed, the couples may apply for marriage licenses for the first time on Dec. 6.

The health department scrambled to revise the state marriage certificate form in time, holding a public hearing Nov. 28. Some county auditors are concerned there won't be enough time to reprogram software on automated marriage application and indexing systems to reflect the changes.

But Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said Friday he is optimistic that the county's Eagle Recorder software vendor, Tylor Technologies, would finish the job in time.

"We are very pleased the Department of Health took prompt action to revise these forms," Kimsey said. "Tyler is very motivated to get this done by December 6."

Eagle Recorder is the software used by the majority of counties in Washington.

Church said the health department received more than 100 public comments about how to modify the form. Commenters were passionate about retaining "bride" and "groom," he said. Some gay couples indicated they had fought for the right to be a bride or groom and didn't want to lose the chance to use the terms, he said. He said there weren't any comments that gay couples would object to going by "bride and bride" or "groom and groom." "Spouse" was included as a gender neutral alternative for those who would like to use it, whether gay or straight.

"We just wanted to give a variety of choices they could pick because not everyone sees their self as a bride or groom," Church said. "With three different options, we think that's going to make everybody happy. We don't want a form that would take away from a very happy day in their lives."