May 7, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 19


Panel to discuss outcome of ‘automatic’ change to turn domestic partnerships into legal marriages

By Rosette Royale / Interim Editor

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Panel to discuss outcome of ‘automatic’ change to turn domestic partnerships into legal marriages

Next month, thousands of same-sex couples in state-registered domestic partnerships won’t have to walk down the aisle in order to become legally married. An upcoming panel will help them understand what that change could mean.

On Thursday, May 8, legal groups, LGBT organizations and the city of Seattle will bring together family law experts to discuss a change that will transform many Washington same-sex domestic partnerships into legal marriages, complete with marriage licenses.  The panel, which is free, begins at 5:30 p.m.

The transformation of partnerships into marriage, known as “automatic conversion,” will occur on June 30.

“Most Washington domestic partnerships are going to convert,” said David Ward, staff attorney at Legal Voice and panel moderator.

As of April 30, there were more than 6,800 active state-registered domestic partnerships, according to the website of Washington’s Secretary of State.

While the conversion will apply to the bulk of these partnerships, some will not be affected, said Ward. Couples where at least one partner is 62 or older will still remain domestic partners.

For state couples who become married, the change means they will become eligible for federal marriage benefits, such as spousal social security, spousal veteran’s benefits or immigration benefits. Married couples can also file joint tax returns.

Although marriage can alter a person’s eligibility to participate in federal benefit programs as well, it varies from program to program, Ward said.

“It’s a good idea to contact the agency to see how [the conversion] affects your benefits,” he said.

Couples registered as domestic partners in other states, but who live in Washington, will not be affected.

The conversion is a result of Referendum 74, a 2012 statewide ballot measure approved by voters to legalize marriage equality in Washington. The referendum required that after 2014, “existing domestic partnerships are converted to marriages, except for seniors.”

Ward said that since there are some couples whose partnerships will convert, the Seattle panel is the first of several. Organizers would like to host events in Tacoma, Olympia and potentially Eastern Washington. 

For those same-sex couples who are registered in Washington as domestic partners, there isn’t much they can do stop the conversion to marriage.

“Unless they file for divorce,” he said.


When: Thursday, May 8, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave. (enter on Fifth Avenue), Bertha Knight Landes Room



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