Washington law on same-sex marriage garnering questions

Chris Henry / Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, Wash.) /


Published Nov 26, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

BREMERTON, Wash. — Now that Referendum 74 has passed, allowing same-sex couples to marry, people are reading the fine print.

Some questions addressed during the campaign are coming up again, and new provisions are getting closer scrutiny.

The referendum got 53.66 percent of the vote. In Kitsap County, 53.97 percent of voters supported the measure. The new law goes into effect Dec. 6.

The Kitsap Sun recently heard from an 85-year-old Bremerton man in a heterosexual relationship, who wondered about the impact of the law on senior citizens. The man, who did not want to be identified, took note of a provision of the referendum (based on legislation passed early in 2012) that states same-sex domestic partnerships in which neither partner is at least 62 will automatically convert to marriages after June 30, 2014.

“The parties to existing same-sex domestic partnerships may either get married or dissolve their domestic partnership,” a copy of the referendum on the secretary of state’s website reads.

The Bremerton couple, like many older couples, has chosen not to marry to protect their federal retirement benefits. They have wills and powers of attorney, and they are investigating whether a domestic partnership will be helpful or redundant. The man wondered whether the June 2014 provision would apply to them in any way.

“No,” according to state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who has co-sponsored gay rights legislation since 2007.

Senior citizens, both straight and gay, may continue to register as domestic partners, and existing partnerships will not be affected in June 2014. Heterosexual partners younger than 62 have not and will not have the right to domestic partnerships.

“The way we (originally) set up domestic partnerships was discriminatory,” Pedersen said.

The 2007 bill gave only same-sex couples younger than 62 the right to register as domestic partners. That was because marriage was not an option for them, said David Ward, an attorney for Legal Voice, a Seattle women’s rights and LGBT advocacy organization. Subsequent bills in 2008 and 2009 expanded rights and responsibilities of domestic partnerships.

The new law will eliminate the right of same-sex couples under 62 to be in domestic partnerships, because marriage is now an option. By June 2014, those couples will have to make a choice: marry or dissolve the partnership.

“This was actually the hardest piece to work through in the marriage bill,” Pedersen said.

According to Pedersen, the committee drafting the bill debated between two extremes, extend domestic partnerships to everyone or eliminate them.

Pedersen favored a totally egalitarian approach that would have let people of all ages and sexual orientations enter either domestic partnerships or marriage.

The committee actually heard from some younger couples who want nothing to do with marriage, an institution they see as tainted throughout history by outdated doctrines of authority and subservience.

The committee chose the middle road that protected senior citizens’ rights. Their thinking, Pedersen said, was politically motivated.

“The political concern was the opponents would be even more exercised if it appeared we were creating an alternative to marriage,” he said.

The committee determined that leaving in a broad application of domestic partnerships would perhaps justify opponents’ arguments that the same-sex marriage law presented a threat to the institution of marriage. Pedersen personally wanted to extend domestic partnerships to all, but he agreed to the consensus.

“As a group, we came to a decision,” Pedersen said. “I support where we came out. It was the right decision.”

Washington joins nine other states that allow same-sex marriage. The Williams Institute, a UCLA-affliated think tank, used U.S. Census data to estimate that, within the first three years of same-sex marriage becoming legal, Washington will see 9,501 gay marriages. That’s about half of eligible couples.

The institute estimates that Maine, Maryland and Washington, which all legalized gay marriage in November, will see a total of $166.6 million over the next three years in wedding-related spending, with Washington’s portion being $88.5 million.