Although there is still vast progress yet to be made, in the past several years we have witnessed a significant legal and societal shift in acceptance of United States same-sex couples. Since the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor, the federal government must acknowledge same-sex marriages established in states which legally recognize them. After Windsor, states still did not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to marriage for gay couples such that states must recognize marriages between same-sex couples when the marriage was validly licensed in another state. A growing number of states are progressing in marriage equality, but they ultimately may still impose barriers and restrictions on same-sex couples. Same-sex couples must remain aware of how other states nationwide treat same-sex marriage.
Washington State recognizes same-sex marriages. The same laws and regulations that generally govern the process for marriage in Washington apply to same-sex partners. If you were married validly in another state, whether same or opposite sex, Washington State will recognize your marriage. The most relevant statutes can be found in RCW 26.040.010 (Marriage contract – Voice marriages – Construction of gender specific terms – Recognition of solemnization of marriage not required), RCW 26.04.020 (Prohibited Marriages), RCW 26.04.260 (Recognition of a legal union), RCW 26.16 (Rights and Liabilities – Community Property), RCW 26.26 (Uniform Parentage Act), and RCW 26.09.187 (Criteria for establishing permanent parenting plan.
Despite nationwide progress toward equal rights for same-sex couples, including landmark Supreme Court rulings and Washington State's recognition of gay marriage, same-sex couples still face barriers and legal issues that other couples do not. The complexity of the nationwide federal and state landscape for marriage means that same-sex couples face problems with rights to federal benefits, immigration, tax issues, and having their marriage treated the same in other states (despite Obergefell, states in practice may deny or impose barriers upon same-sex couples). Same-sex couples thus will often face more difficult and complex decisions than other couples when considering marriage in the first place or considering interstate relocation after. And while people who are legally authorized to marry opposite-sex couples can marry same-sex couples, no clergy person can be required to marry any couple if doing so would be contrary to their faith. And of course, individual and systemic discrimination still exists everywhere regardless of the legality of same-sex marriage. Some states will continue to make every effort to ignore Obergefell and impose restrictions and barriers on same-sex couples wherever possible.
The decision to marry or divorce is already a complex one, and same-sex couples face even more complex issues. This heightens the importance for same-sex couples considering marriage to complete their own research and consult with an attorney prior to making any major decisions.
Give us a call if we can assist you and your family navigate the new laws on same-sex marriage.