Same-sex marriages swell tally of nuptials

In the first month they could, gay couples held 66% of county weddings

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Lynn Mueller, 51, and Dorinda Pulliam, 56, of Vancouver were together for two decades before state law finally allowed them to marry.

"After 20 years, we don't feel like newlyweds," Mueller said. "One of the things that is different, which tickles me, is now, when I fill out forms, I don't have to check the box for 'single'; now, I can check the box that says 'married.' I didn't anticipate that would be so significant and meaningful."

Mueller and Pulliam were among 156 same-sex couples who married in Clark County in the first month it was legal, from Dec. 9 to Jan. 9, according to the county's Marriage License Department.

That accounted for 66 percent of all marriages in the county during the month, said Paul Harris, the department's manager.

"As we expected, there was a big blip in December due to same-gender marriages," Harris said.

Harris and his partner of 40 years, James Griener, were part of that blip. They married Dec. 12.

December and January typically aren't favorite months to get married, Harris said. The average in December, for example, is usually about 168, according to marriage license department numbers. This December, it was 333.

"I do expect the total marriage licenses to be up every month over the history because there are more people eligible to get married," Harris said.

During the first month, same-sex couples visited the county from multiple states where gay marriage isn't legal to take advantage of the marriage law. That included Oregon, California, Alaska and Colorado.

Despite the first month's spike, the number of gay marriages wasn't as high as some had anticipated. (The county had prepared for hundreds on the first day the law went into effect.)

That's a good thing, said Mark Johnson Roberts, a Portland divorce attorney who also practices in Washington.

When Oregon's Multnomah County briefly allowed gay marriage in 2004, there was a rush on the courthouse, he said.

"It was the first opportunity anyone (who was gay) had the opportunity to marry," Johnson Roberts said. "It was six weeks before I got the first call (from a gay couple wanting a divorce)."

Now that nine states have marriage equality, same-sex couples may feel more confident in their right to marry and more deliberate in their pursuit of the institution, he said.

"I think that's always good because it's a serious relationship," Johnson Roberts said. "People have wanted it for so long. It concerns me when people rush into it when their relationship may not be that stable."

State voters on Nov. 6 upheld the same-sex marriage law, passed earlier in 2012 by the state Legislature. A majority of Clark County voters -- 52.6 percent -- rejected the referendum.

The law went into effect Dec. 6, but the mandatory three-day waiting period after a license is issued meant the first marriages between gay couples didn't happen until Dec. 9.

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