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Washington state poised to OK gay marriage by Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day might mark more marriage proposals than usual in Washington this year. This is, of course, because the gay marriage bill was passed Wednesday night by the Washington State Senate and the House is expected to pass the legislation as early as next week.

In our Spokane Family Law Blog, we recently discussed what might happen to registered same-sex domestic partners in the Spokane area if this bill is signed into law. Now, as it appears the law could be enacted before cupid draws his bow later this month, it may be important to revisit those issues.

Domestic partnerships were established about four years ago by the legislature in order to afford benefits, similar to those of marriage, to same-sex couples. The gay-marriage bill contains a provision that will effectively do away with these types of partnerships. Registered same-sex couples--who number at more than 9,300--will actually be asked to either marry or dissolve their partnerships by June 30, 2014. If a couple does neither, the state will consider them married.

Somewhat surprisingly, this sweeping provision has had little criticism. Some say that this is because many domestic partners would like to marry.

The point of the provision, according to one of the bill's sponsors, is to afford equal relationship rights to both gay and straight couples. Marriage would then be the only option for almost all couples. Senior citizens, who were allowed to register as domestic partners, will be allowed to keep their partnerships in tact; this is because they were allowed to register to avoid jeopardizing Social Security and pension benefits by marrying later in life.

While many same-sex partners would likely take advantage of their newfound rights and the romance of the season by choosing to marry, others may decide to dissolve their partnerships when faced with the reality of formalizing their commitments. Those who do choose to pursue a dissolution will face many of the same complex legal issues that are involved in divorce, which include property division, spousal support, child support, and child custody and visitation.

It is important to note that although the legislation could be passed next week, a referendum to overturn the law could appear on the November ballot if opponents gather enough signatures by the June deadline.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Little outcry over plan to shift domestic partners into marriage," Lornet Turnbull, Feb. 1, 2012

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