Legal marriage for same-sex couples became available on December 6, 2012.
Washington State would have allowed legal marriage for same-sex couples starting on June 7, 2012, however, anti-gay, anti-marriage proponents brought enough signatures to require a state-wide voter referendum (R-74). On November 6, 2012, not only Washington, but the states of Maine and Maryland won marriage equality through voter elections.
Allowing committed same-sex couples to get married does not change the meaning of marriage. It changes who has access.
Civil marriage for same-sex couples does not affect religious marriages, religious institutions or clergy in any way. No legal marriage law has ever required any religion to be forced to marry same-sex couples, or recognize same-sex marriages within the context of their religious beliefs.
What defines a marriage is love and commitment, and the ability to protect your family. Marriage strengthens all families. It gives couples the tools and the security to build a life together and to protect their family.
Couples marry because they want to be together through sickness and health, when times are good and when things get tough. State and federal marriage laws provide a safety net of legal and economic protections for married couples and their children – including the ability to visit a spouse in the hospital, and to transfer property, which can mean being able to remain in the family home when a spouse has passed away.
While there have been attempts to create marriage-like relationship systems — Domestic Partnership registrations and Civil Unions — they don’t provide the same security and protections on a national level.
Washington State offers many of the spousal rights to same-sex couples that are offered to legally married opposite-sex couples. The Domestic Partnership law also covers opposite-sex couples, in which at least one partner is past 62.
This status became law on April 21, 2007. It took effect on July 22, 2007, accepting applications on Monday the 23rd.
[For more information on the registration law, please see Domestic Partnership: The Washington Approach]
Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) sponsored the original domestic partnership bill. Murray and other sponsors of the bill made it clear, when they introduced the bill in January 2007, that their goal is full marriage equality for same-sex couples, and that they viewed domestic partnerships merely as an incremental step.
When Governor Christine Gregoire signed the Domestic Partnership registration bill, allowing couples to make health care and end-of-life decisions for each other, she said “This is a very proud moment for me as governor.”
On March 12, 2008, a greatly expanded addition to the partnership status was made law, taking effect on June 12, 2008.
While the Domestic Partnership registrations do a lot for state residents, its status is not recognized by most other states and especially not on the national level.
In April 2011, Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law that recognized out-of-state same-sex marriages with all the rights and protections given to registered domestic partnerships in Washington state. Washington law had previously only recognized domestic partnerships and civil unions, and out-of-state same-sex marriages received no benefits coverage.
Also in 2011, U.S Senator Patty Murray, who had voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, (DoMA) stated, “I strongly support President Obama’s decision to stop defending DoMA in court, and now it’s time that we take another step forward and fully repeal this law.”
On January 4, 2012 Governor Gregoire, stated, “We have been on a journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation,” and announced her support of same-sex marriage legislation, saying “It is time, it is the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it.” SB 6239, which would legalize same-sex marriage, as well as convert most domestic partnerships into marriages, was referred to the committee for Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections.
[For the complete text, please see Marriage Equality Speech by Governor Chris Gregoire]
On January 26, 2012 the bill passed by a 4-3 vote and was sent to the Senate floor for a full vote.
On February 1, 2012, SB 6239, passed the Senate by a vote of 28-21.
Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law on February 13, 2012.
The law would have taken effect on June 7, 2012, however, by June 6, 2012, anti-gay, anti-marriage proponents collected the 120,577 signatures needed to require a state-wide voter referendum (R-74).
Because no gay civil rights public vote had ever won approval, they hoped that the law allowing marriage will be destroyed. Previously, same-sex civil unions and marriage have only been won due to court interpretation of the U.S. and state Constitutions, as well as by state legislatures.
On November 6, 2012, not only the state of Washington, but the states of Maine and Maryland won marriage equality through voter elections.
Same-sex couples were allowed to legally marry on December 6, 2012. By December 9, more than 600 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in King County alone. The first marriages were officiated on December 9, 2012.
Suits and Legislations
Singer v. Hara
In 1971, Singer v. Hara was the second suit for same-sex legal marriage in the U.S. (The first was Baker v. Nelson in Minnesota, also in 1971.) Gay activists John Singer (later changed his name to Faygele ben Miriam) and Paul Barwick requested a marriage license from the King County auditor, Lloyd Hara, to demonstrate the inequality between same- and opposite-sex couples. Hara politely refused, upon which Singer and Barwick brought suit on the grounds that the denial violated the Equal Rights Amendment of the State Constitution. The Washington Court of Appeals denied the claim in 1974. The Washington Supreme Court refused to review the Court of Appeal decision.
Andersen v. Sims
On March 8, 2004, six same-sex couples, backed by Lambda Legal, filed Andersen v. Sims, challenging the constitutionality of Washington’s “Defense of Marriage Act.” The four constitutional claims were based on due process, privacy, equal protection, and gender equality. On August 4, 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William L. Downing said the state had no rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from the rights and benefits of marriage. He concluded that the state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated sections of the constitution that required due process and equal protection of the laws. Full marriage was not required, but the opinion mandated the creation of a “civil union” status that gave all marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples. His order was stayed pending appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Castle v. State
On April 1, 2004, eleven same-sex couples, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed Castle v. State challenging Washington’s laws that ban same-sex couples from marrying. It also sought recognition of marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions. On September 7, 2004, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard D. Hicks said the state marriage laws violated the equal protection of privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution. The ruling was combined with Andersen on an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Andersen v. King County
The two cases, Andersen v. Sims and Castle v. State, were consolidated for supreme court review as Andersen v. King County. The Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 8, 2005. On July 26, 2006, the Washington Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling in favor of reversing the trial court. The majority opinion focused on the constitutionality of the legislature’s enactment of the state’s “Defense of Marriage Act” limiting the privileges of marriage to opposite-sex couples. In October 2006, the court refused to reconsider its ruling.
On January 10, 2007, the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance filed Washington Initiative 957 (2007) to put one part of the Andersen decision into law by making procreation a requirement for all marriages in Washington State. The group’s stated rationale was to prompt public examination of the premise that marriage exists for the purpose of procreation and to create a test case whereby “Andersen” could be struck down as unconstitutional. The initiative’s sponsors withdrew it on July 3, 2007, after failing to gather a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the November 2007 ballot.
SB 6239 and HB 2516 - the 2012 Same-sex Marriage Bills
SB 6239 legalized same-sex marriage, and converted most domestic partnerships not dissolved within two years into marriages. On January 26, 2012, it was referred to the committee for Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections, where it passed. Four hostile amendments were introduced by Republican Dan Swecker. His motions all failed on a party line vote of 3-4. Republican Don Benton asked for a referendum for the November 2012 ballot, which failed 3-4. On January 26, 2012, the bill was reported out of the committee 4-3, and sent to the Senate floor for a full vote. On February 1, 2012, SB 6239, passed the Senate 28-21.
The House of Representatives took up the same measure as HB 2516. It was passed out of the Judiciary Committee on January 30 by 7-6, on a strict party line vote. They again voted on the Senate-approved version of the bill on February 6, which passed 7-5, with one Republican committee member absent. The bill was sent to the House floor, where it was passed on February 8 by 55-43. The legislation also provided that all domestic partnerships not involving at least one member aged 62 or older, and not dissolved within two years of the date the law goes into effect, will automatically become marriages.
Governor Christine Gregoire signed the same-sex marriage bill into law on February 13, 2012.
Referendum 74 - the 2012 Anti-gay, Anti-marriage Referendum
The new same-sex marriage law was to take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session but opponents blocked its implementation by collecting the signatures necessary to put the measure to a popular vote on November 6, 2012. In Referendum 74, voters approved the law by a 54-46 percent margin. The law took effect on December 6, 2012. Because Washington requires a three day waiting period (excluding the day of issue) for the officiation of a marriage, the first same-sex marriages took place on December 9, 2012.
Articles from Political Leaders
Regulations & Links to Official State Instructions
Washington Marriage License Regulations
Links to Official State Marriage License Instructions
- Couples can obtain marriage licenses from any county, usually at the county auditor.
- They do not have to obtain their marriage license from the county where they reside, or the county where they plan to have the marriage ceremony.
- All couples required to wait three days after applying for their marriage license, before having their marriage ceremony.
- The fee varies by county. In King County, the fee is $64.
- A marriage license is valid for 60 days. The marriage must be officiated within this time.
- No blood test or physical exam is required.
- If couples are already registered domestic partners in Washington, they will still have to pay a fee to apply for a marriage license.
- A marriage ceremony must be performed by a licensed or ordained religious official, or by a judge or court commissioner. Many counties provide a list of judicial officials who will perform marriage ceremonies.
- Registered domestic partners must decide whether they want to become married, unless one partner is 62 years of age or older. Except for senior couples, domestic partnerships are being phased out. Once a couple is married, the registered domestic partnership is automatically dissolved.
- If legally married in another state or country, and is legally recognized there, Washington State will recognize the marriage. You do not need to get married again in Washington.
- If you entered into a civil union or domestic partnership in another state, and the civil union or domestic partnership gives substantially the same rights and responsibilities as a marriage, then you have the same rights and responsibilities as married spouses while you are in Washington. However, if you and your partner become permanent residents of Washington, and live in the state for more than a year, you will have to get married if you want to continue to have the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
- There is no residency requirement to marry in Washington.
- There is no legal requirement for name change after getting married; it is a right a couple may choose to exercise.
- There is a residency requirement for divorce. If you move, or live, in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, they likely will not provide a divorce process, requiring one of you to reside in Washington to get divorced. If you do not divorce, you may not be able to legally marry again, and your will be responsible for your spouse’s debts.
Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage
South Africa (2005)
New Zealand (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
United States (2015)
US States & Territories
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Rhode Island (2013)
New Jersey (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
West Virginia (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
Ruling: All U.S. States must now
allow same-sex couples the
freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes|
Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)