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January 9, 2013
Same Sex Marriage in Washington State

On November 6, 2012, Washington State voters approved Referendum 74 authorizing same sex marriage in our State.  Same sex couples were free to marry beginning December 9, 2012.

The new law presents a myriad of legal issues relating to the rights and responsibilities of those entering into same sex marriages, the implications of the new law upon same sex registered domestic partners and the interplay between many state laws and federal laws when same sex couples marry.

For example, the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), a federal law passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as between a man and a woman only and prohibits federal recognition of same sex marriages.  DOMA precludes same sex married couples from receiving over 1,000 federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples such as Social Security spousal benefits and health insurance for spouses of federal employees.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court accepted review of two marriage equality cases.  The first case, Windsor v. United States, challenges DOMA.  The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is a California’s Proposition 8 case, the 2008 ballot initiative banning same sex marriage.  The Court’s decisions these cases is expected in June of 2013.  A ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional would free the federal government to recognize same sex marriage that have been legalized by the states and grant federal benefits including tax benefits, health insurance and social security survivors’ benefits to the same sex spouses of federal employees and military members.  

Significant items of interest regarding Washington’s law regarding Same Sex Marriage

          - All couples in a Registered Domestic Partnership will have their registered domestic partnerships automatically converted into marriages on June 30, 2014 unless they affirmatively opt out of the conversion.  However, domestic partnerships remain available for opposite sex and same sex couples where one partner is over 62 years.

          - If married in Washington (by affirmative marriage ceremony or domestic partnership conversion) a couple later divorcing will have to do so in the State of Washington by legal dissolution (as opposite sex couples have for many years).

          - If a same sex, married couple lived together in a committed intimate relationship prior to marriage, and that couple later divorces, the court will likely apply two standards to the final determination of case issues.  One standard for the period during which the couple was in a committed intimate relationship and another standard for the period during which the couple was married.

Our new law is complex and the waters of litigation are uncharted.  Eisenhower's family law attorneys are prepared to assist their clients navigate the complexities of this emerging area of law.


This advisory is a publication of Eisenhower Carlson PLLC. Our purpose in publishing this advisory is to inform our clients and friends of recent legal developments. It is not intended, nor should it be used, as a substitute for specific legal advice as legal counsel may only be given in response to inquiries regarding particular situations.

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