On November 6, 2012, Washington voters decided whether to approve Referendum 74 to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. The approval of Referendum 74 means that same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in Washington state, and apply for marriage licenses starting December 6, 2012. Marriage equality provides important benefits to same-sex couples. It means we will be able to celebrate, honor, and protect our relationships using the universal language of marriage that everyone understands. It eliminates barriers to equality that persisted because of the separate but not equal status of state registered domestic partnerships.
When can we get married?
Same-sex couples, whether registered domestic partners or not, can apply for a marriage license on December 6, 2012. Under Washington law, couples have to wait three days after applying for a marriage license to have a marriage ceremony, which means December 9, 2012 is the first day you can get your relationship officially recognized as a marriage in Washington. Marriage licenses are issued by counties. A search for your county and “marriage license” should get you to the information about applying for a marriage license. You can apply for a marriage license in any county in Washington, not just the county where you reside or plan to have your marriage ceremony.
What will happen to our state registered domestic partnership?
Your state registered domestic partnership terminates if you get married. If you do not want to incur the additional cost of obtaining a marriage license or for any other reason do not get married by June 30, 2014, your state registered domestic partnership will automatically convert to marriage on June 30, 2014.
If we get married, will we have all the same rights and responsibilities as married different--sex couples?
Unfortunately, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means that the federal government will not recognize your legal Washington state marriage and other states can refuse to recognize your marriage. This means that for federal tax purposes, same-sex couples will continue to have tax obstacles related to the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriage. If your relationship ends, you also will not have access to the same taxing options for spousal maintenance (alimony/palimony) and transfer of property protections. Because your marriage may not be recognized in other states, you should consider means that ensure you are protected when you travel, such as obtaining Powers of Attorneys for each other.
If you are in a binational relationship and either you or your partner is not a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, you should consider whether getting married will create immigration problems. Because the federal government will not recognize your marriage, it will not allow you to petition for your spouse’s citizenship as if you were in a different-sex marriage. If you marry, your marriage may make it difficult to visit each other or pursue a visa because your marriage could be viewed as evidence of an intent to stay in the country permanently. You should seek the advice of an immigration attorney knowledgeable in same-sex immigration issues. In addition, Immigration Equality is a good resource for binational couples. See http://www.immigrationequality.org/issues/couples-and-families/should-we-marry/ for more information.
What does it mean for parents?
In 2009 and 2011, the Washington Legislature passed laws that legally protect and recognize the parental rights of same-sex couples who have children together. For example, you and your domestic partner were both be presumed under Washington law to be the parents of any children you had during your domestic partnership. The marriage equality law will continue to provide for this presumption of parentage during your marriage. Despite the legislature’s efforts to do everything possible to create protections for same-sex couples who have a child during their relationship, these laws only protect families while they are in Washington State or in another state that recognizes the same-sex marriages and/or domestic partnerships, they do not guarantee protection in other states. If parents travel to a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, like Idaho, only the biological parent’s rights may be recognized. Because of this, experts continue to advise non-biological parents adopt their child, even if parents are married.
How does this impact us if our relationship ends?
If you are in the process of a dissolving your state registered domestic partnership (i.e., divorcing) your relationship will not automatically convert to marriage. If your relationship ends at any time after you registered as domestic partners, for purposes of dissolution, your relationship will be deemed as beginning when you became state registered domestic partners. This is also true if you and your registered domestic partner get married, but later decide to end your relationship. This distinction is important for purposes of dividing property, assets and debts. If your relationship existed long before state recognition of domestic partnerships (i.e., 2007), property or debts acquired before you registered as domestic partners may be considered in a dissolution proceeding. These will be distributed in a just and equitable manner.
What about senior couples?
Domestic Partnerships will continue to exist for couples where at least one member of the couple is 62 or older. This is because some senior couples might not want to marry because it may affect their Social Security or pension benefits. For all domestic partnerships where one member of the couple is 62 years or older, the state registered domestic partnership will not automatically convert to marriage. If you want you want to get married you can, you just need to follow the county guidelines for obtaining a marriage license.
Marriage equality provides important benefits and protection for same-sex couples who wish to marry. Still, due to DOMA, differences among federal rights, responsibilities, and benefits will persist. Other states will continue to be allowed to deny the existence of marriages of same-sex couples, no matter how protective Washington laws are for same-sex families. The fight for equality continues, and there are several cases that could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the next year that could change the federal benefits and marriage recognition throughout the United States.
QLaw Association http://www.q-law.org
Legal Voice - http://legalvoice.org/ - They have Tools to Help you including Family Law resources
Lambda Legal - http://www.lambdalegal.org/
National Center for Lesbian Rights - http://www.nclrights.org
Immigration Equality - http://www.immigrationequality.org/
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