In 2012, Washington voters made history when they approved Referendum 74, thereby eliminating the state's ban on same-sex marriage. While just about everyone knows that Referendum 74 allowed same-sex couples to marry, it's less well known that the measure also provided that most state-registered domestic partnerships would be automatically converted to marriages on June 30, without the couples doing a thing.
Many couples and attorneys have questions about the "automatic conversion." To understand what's happening, here is a brief history of Washington's domestic partnership laws, along with answers to some frequently asked questions.
In 2007, the Washington Legislature established a state, domestic partnership registry. The 2007 law permitted same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, as well as couples in which at least one partner was 62 or older.1
The Legislature created domestic partnerships for same-sex couples because state law (at the time) restricted marriage to different-sex couples. The Legislature also permitted couples in which at least one partner was 62 or older to register as domestic partners because "[w]hile 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."2
To register as domestic partners, couples had to complete a notarized declaration and send it to the Washington Secretary of State's Office with a $50 fee.3
In 2008 and 2009, the Legislature expanded the law to provide state-registered domestic partners virtually all state-law rights and obligations that apply to married couples.4 Among other things, the Legislature provided that state-registered domestic partners had to follow the same judicial dissolution process that applies to married couples.5
Fast forward to 2012. In February 2012, the Legislature passed a bill that allowed same-sex couples to marry. Because the bill ended the ban on marriage for same-sex couples, the Legislature decided to phase out state-registered domestic partnerships, except for couples in which at least one partner is 62 or older.
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