Domestic partnerships — the Washington state wrinkle

In Books, Crooks, and Counselors, I answered questions about common law marriage, pointing out that it could not be used by same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage as a way to establish a legal marriage. Likewise, domestic partnerships are not marriage. But now, as part of its same-sex marriage law, Washington State is about to convert some 10,000 registered domestic partnerships into marriage, effective June 30. According to this piece in the Seattle Times, Washington’s domestic partnership was available to same sex couples of any age and to heterosexual couples in which one partner was over 62 at the time of registration, as a way to provide many of the financial benefits of marriage.

Of course, not everyone in a d.p. will want to become married. No doubt some d.p.s have ended, but remain registered — ending one can be much like a divorce. The state is sending out notices, but some folks will have moved. And as the Seattle Times story points out, some will have legally married other people — only to find themselves unexpectedly illegally married, because of the conversion. Others may have moved to states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, although an increasing number of states have now concluded that they must recognize marriages legally formed in another state, even if not legal to form in that state.

Can you envision a way to complicate your characters’ lives with this law?

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4 thoughts on “Domestic partnerships — the Washington state wrinkle

  1. What a can of worms! I can hear the conversations now. “But I didn’t marry you.” “No, honey, the state of WA married us.” “How can we be married when I wasn’t even there?” “You’ve heard of taxation w/o representation? This is matrimony w/o representation.”

    Joking aside, this is a law that’s fraught with unintended consequences. It will keep the courts busy for years to come.

    • And we know the courts are plenty busy already! It also illustrates how laws in one state can have an effect well beyond its borders. Traditionally, states recognize marriages legal in the state where they occurred, but same-sex marriages have been a challenge for courts. Will a Montana court recognize a marriage by d.p. from Washington? Or divorce a couple married that way? I hate the potential real-life complications, but love the plot opportunities!

  2. What a great observation, Leslie! Seems to me that the well-intentioned politicians in WA need to retract this “conversion.” Legally, it doesn’t seem that they could convert one program such as domestic partnership into something else people may not have intended. It’d be like applying for a fishing license and suddenly being handed a 007 License to Kill. Your points about the inherent problems 10,000 people may face are certainly fodder for many stories. Thanks for the clever observations!
    😉 Lori

    • Thanks, Lori. You’re right — a couple might have chosen to register a domestic partnership but not actually want to marry. My impression is that authorities thought they could simplify administrative matters and phase out d.p., now that same-sex marriage is legal and the older opposite-sex couples eligible for d.p. will be dying. But the ramifications! Glad to spark some plot problems for you!

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