Gay and lesbian partners in Washington state will soon find themselves legally married — possibly without even realizing it — as part of a sweeping government decision to automatically convert domestic partnerships into marriages.
The provision, part of the state's 2012 same-sex marriage law, could pose some major problems, particularly for couples who registered as domestic partners but who have since separated, the Seattle Times reported.
In This Dec. 9, 2012, file photo, Terry Gilbert, left, kisses his husband Paul Beppler after getting married at Seattle City Hall, becoming among the first gay couples to legally wed in the state, in Seattle. (AP/Elaine Thompson, File)
Starting June 30, all domestic partners who are not currently in the process of annulling of dissolving their unions will find themselves legally married.
While many happy couples are sure to welcome the change, it's likely to create conundrums for couples not in the same circumstances they were when they registered their partnerships.
Couples that have unofficially separated will end up being recognized as married if they don't take action before the June 30 deadline. Some couples who registered as domestic partners in Washington, but then moved to a state where gay unions are not recognized, have had to move back to Washington to dissolve their partnerships -- and will likely need to do the same if they wish to block their impending marriages, the Times reported.
It doesn't matter if couples are aware of the coming automatic marriage rollover — it'll happen regardless.
By next month, the Washington secretary of state's office will send notices to the existing gay partners still in the state registry, informing them of the coming change. The state's website shows there were 9,786 active domestic partner registrations with 876 terminations as of Feb. 18.
In this Dec. 9, 2012, file photo, Cynthia Wallace, left, and soon-to-be-wife Julie Fein spin a few dance steps as they prepare to take their wedding vows in the early morning hours in the courtroom of Judge Mary Yu in the King County Courthouse, becoming among the first gay couples in the state to legally wed, in Seattle. (AP/Elaine Thompson, File)
Pam Floyd, corporations director in the Washington secretary of state's office, said the government will handle complicated situations on a case-by-case basis, though it is unclear how this will work.
Wedding planner Jenny Harding said many couples she has interacted with don't know about the law's domestic partner provision. Harding, who plans to marry her partner, Lindsay Larson, said that she takes issue with the law automatically rolling domestic partnerships into marriages.
"My person opinion is, I don't think there should be a date," Harding told KIRO-TV. "I think you should have to do that by choosing to make it legal yourself versus having a domestic partnership just roll into a marriage."
Others like Mike Hendrix and Mike Pollack don't take issue with the change. They're planning a wedding ceremony for July 20.
"Really looking forward to the big day now," Pollack told KIRO.
Hendrix added, "Really, it didn't matter so much to us. The way that we've been living, it's pretty much been just a marriage."
Domestic partnerships were legalized in Washington state in 2007, leading 10,000 couples to register for benefits similar to marriage, according to the Seattle Times. When gay marriage was legalized in 2012, many domestic partnership couples chose to formally marry.
After June 30, the only Washington residents who will remain in domestic partnerships are older couples who are gay or straight with at least one individual over the age of 62.
(H/T: The Seattle Times)