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Washington plan for same-sex couples courts controversy

The state of Washington plans to automatically convert thousands of same-sex couples to married status at the end of June 2014 if their domestic partnership had not already been replaced by marriage or if their legal union had already ended. The state had 6,500 domestic partnerships listed in its registry and was expected to send out notices to those couples by mid-March to alert them to the possible change in their marital status.

Some LGBT advocates might have been expected to embrace this provision of Washington’s same-sex marriage statute because of the priority it gave gay and lesbian unions. An area newspaper told of one gay couple who had already held a commitment ceremony and were happy just to let that “roll over” into actual marriage.However, the fact that many affected couples were not even aware of the plan, and might not approve of it if they were, seemed to be courting controversy from the very people who it was designed to recognize.

An official with the Washington Secretary of State’s office said that she expected there would be unusual scenarios which no one had yet considered, as in the case of couples who might have broken up but were still listed as together on the domestic partnership registry. The official said they would examine these situations on a case-by-case basis.

Whether two people are married or consider themselves in a domestic partnership, legal issues may still need to be dealt with if they split up. Parental rights, including questions of custody, visitation and relocation, will figure into the dissolution of the relationship as well.

Source: Seattle PI, “Wash. to convert same-sex partners into marriage”, February 17, 2014

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