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Updated Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM

Gay-marriage Q&A

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

With the state's same-sex-marriage law about to go into effect, gay couples are raising a number of questions — some straightforward, others more complicated.

Here are some:

Question: We got married in New York earlier this year. Can we still marry in Washington state?

Answer: This is one of the most common inquires, with perhaps one of the most ambiguous answers.

The law does not explicitly say whether couples who are already married can or cannot marry one another again.

As it already does under its domestic-partnership law, Washington will recognize all gay marriages — those from other states, the District of Columbia, Canada and other countries — so there's no real need for already married gay couples to marry one another again.

In some counties, marriage-license application forms ask if a couple is already married and counties won't grant a license if the answer is yes. King County's form does not ask that, but county officials and legal experts are discouraging married couples from marrying again.

Q: We're in a domestic partnership from Washington state and would like to marry. What steps do we need to take?

A: The process for dissolving a domestic partnership is similar to ending a marriage, costing about the same as a divorce. It's only necessary if you and your domestic partner want to split up.

If you want to remain together, you can marry now or wait until June 30, 2014, when the state will convert the partnership to a marriage.

Q: What if we do nothing?

A: You will find yourselves married as of that date, whether you want to be or not.

Q: I got married in Massachusetts in 2005 but am now with somebody else. Can we get married?

A: No. The new law prohibits you from marrying one person if you are already married to, or are still in a valid domestic partnership or civil union with another living person. You will need to get a divorce or dissolution before you can marry.

Q: We relocated here from New Jersey and are in a civil union. What should we do?

A: The state will recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships from elsewhere — but not indefinitely. You will have a year to convert your union to a marriage or the state will no longer recognize it.

Q: We live in Idaho, where same-sex marriage is banned, and so plan to marry in Washington. Are there legal implications we should know about?

A: Your marriage won't be recognized in your home state, meaning you will not be eligible for any of the legal benefits of marriage, such as property and inheritance rights.

If you later decide to divorce, you wouldn't be able to do that at home but rather would have to establish residency in Washington or another state that recognizes same-sex marriage.

When it comes to divorce — gay or straight — most states require at least one spouse to be a resident for at least six months before the couple can divorce there. Washington doesn't specify a length of residency, only that one spouse needs to be living in the state.

Such requirements are especially relevant for gay couples who live in states like yours that don't recognize their out-of-state marriage and therefore won't grant them a divorce. It's not an issue for straight couples because any state will recognize their marriage and also will grant them a divorce.

Q: I'm 65, straight and, to avoid losing my spousal pension benefits, entered into a domestic partnership a few years ago instead of marrying. Will I be able to stay in that partnership?

A: Yes. After June 30, 2014, domestic partnerships in the state will be maintained only for senior couples — those in which at least one person is 62 years old — whether they are gay or straight. Domestic partnership will end for younger gay couples.

Q: My partner is a foreign national here on a work visa. If we marry, would I be able to petition for her to get permanent legal status to stay in this country?

A: No. The federal government, which controls the nation's immigration laws, doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. That means married gay couples are denied most federal benefits, which range from Social Security and military benefits to some kinds of health-insurance benefits.


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