Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Update On Washington's Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnership Laws

Posted Monday, May 7, 2012 by John S. Palmer

Washington State’s new law permitting same sex couples to marry is scheduled to take effect on June 7th. However, implementation could be delayed, and the law could be repealed without taking effect, if enough signatures are gathered by June 6th to put a proposed referendum on the November general election ballot. This referendum, R-74, would ask voters to approve or reject the new law. The group Preserve Marriage Washington claims to have gathered just over 60,500 signatures to date, which is approximately half of the 120,577 needed to place the initiative on the ballot.

Under the new law, marriage would be redefined as a civil contract between two competent, qualified adults, without regard to gender. Ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, and officials from any other religious organization would not be required to solemnize or recognize any marriage, and would be exempt from any civil liability for refusing to do so.

Washington’s domestic partnership law, RCW 26.60, would remain in effect for both heterosexual and same-sex couples in which at least one party is 62 years of age, in recognition of the fact that older couples often do not want to marry to avoid losing social security or pension benefits tied to a previous marriage. Same-sex domestic partnerships that do not meet this new age requirement would be automatically deemed to be a marriage on June 30, 2012 unless dissolved or converted to a marriage before that date; if converted, the date the domestic partnership was created would be deemed to be the date of the marriage.

The new state law contains a provision stating that gender specific terms such as “husband” and “wife” in any statute, rule or other law shall be construed to be gender neutral and applicable to spouses of the same sex. However, this does not apply to rights granted to spouses under federal law. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage to mean “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”, and defines the word “spouse” for purposes of federal law to refer only “to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” Therefore, even in states that recognize same-sex marriage, only heterosexual married couples are currently entitled to file joint tax returns, take advantage of the unlimited marital deduction for federal estate and gift tax purposes, or claim spousal social security benefits.

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056