March 2015 Bar Bulletin
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March 2015 Bar Bulletin

Implementing Changes to Registered Domestic Partner Status in the Workplace

By Karen Sutherland


As of June 30, 2014, most state registered domestic partnerships (RDPs) were "automatically merged into a marriage."1 Does this mean that employers no longer have to think about including references to registered domestic partners in their policies, benefits packages and collective bargaining agreements? The short answer is "no" because there are three circumstances under which RDPs still exist in Washington.

The first circumstance will eventually resolve itself; namely, where the parties had proceedings for dissolution, annulment or legal separation pending as of June 30, 2014. People with such proceedings pending will continue to be registered domestic partners until their proceedings end.2 If the proceedings are finalized without dissolution, annulment or legal separation, their state RDP is automatically merged into a marriage and is deemed a marriage as of June 30, 2014.

The second circumstance is where one or both partners are 62 years of age or older.3 In this circumstance, the parties are still registered domestic partners unless they get married or end their RDP relationship. The rationale for the age-based distinction is as follows:

The legislature finds that the public interest would be served by extending rights and benefits to couples in which either or both of the partners are at least sixty-two years of age. While these couples are entitled to marry under the state's marriage statutes, some social security and pension laws nevertheless make it impractical for these couples to marry. For this reason, chapter 156, Laws of 2007 specifically allows couples to enter into a state registered domestic partnership if one of the persons is at least sixty-two years of age, the age at which many people choose to retire and are eligible to begin collecting social security and pension benefits.4

The third circumstance is where, "A legal union, other than a marriage, of two persons that was validly formed in another jurisdiction, and that is substantially equivalent to a domestic partnership under this chapter, shall be recognized as a valid domestic partnership in this state and shall be treated the same as a domestic partnership registered in this state regardless of whether it bears the name domestic partnership."5

RCW 26.60.100 does not specifically except individuals to whom this reciprocity statute applies from having their legal union other than a marriage "treated the same" by merging it into a marriage if they are under the age of 62. But it seems unlikely that the statute would be interpreted this way since the result would be that any such couple who was just passing through Washington (changing planes at Sea-Tac, for example) would have their legal union merged into a marriage. It is more likely that a legal union formed in another jurisdiction would be treated in Washington as a registered domestic partnership that did not get merged into a marriage.

Registered domestic partners continue to be treated the same as married spouses for all purposes under state law. The following are some examples where continued existence of RDPs in Washington affects the workplace:

  • Laws prohibiting discrimination or harassment based on marital status still apply to RDPs.

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