County officials are planning for longer hours in King, Pierce and Thurston counties to handle an expected rush of gay and lesbian couples wanting to take advantage of their new right to marry.
Marriage licenses become available Dec. 6 when Referendum 74 is certified although a required waiting period will push the first ceremonies off by three more days to Dec. 9.
We are really ramping up because were expecting a lot of activity. You can imagine there are a lot of people in Pierce County who want to be the first couple in line to fill out a marriage license application, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said.
She said other places that have legalized same-sex marriage have seen license applications double. Assuming that holds true here, she expects the roughly 6,000 marriage licenses processed in 2011 to grow to 12,000 next year.
Her counterpart in Thurston County, Auditor Kim Wyman, is also expecting a large turnout. Well probably have a line at least on the first couple of days, she said. Some of the plans being developed:
• Wyman said she might extend Thurston hours beyond the usual 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 7. Shes also leaning toward opening Dec. 8, a Saturday, she said.
• King County Executive Dow Constantine announced last week that the county Recorders Office will have extended hours Dec. 6-8.
• Andersons office will stay open through 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 7, then open for special hours of 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 9.
Such weekend special licensing fairs" are not a new idea in Pierce County, Anderson said. The office has done them in the past to provide weekend access to services. Anyone who wants to renew their passport or their car tabs, for example, can join engaged couples in line.
Her office wont hire temporary employees as it does for elections, but some workers will be diverted from their usual jobs to manage crowds.
"There are a lot of similarities to getting ready for this marriage licensing fair to getting ready for an election, Anderson said, such as needing a plan for security, parking and crowd safety.
Expect a wait, she said. But couples will be able to plug their information into computer kiosks before they reach a clerk, to improve efficiency and accuracy, she said.
Wyman doesnt expect Thurston County to need extra staff, either, but said she would be open to hiring some former election workers if needed. Im sure we could ask a couple of them to come back and help us with some of that volume, she said.
Applying for a license costs $64 and requires photo identification. Alternatively, couples can submit a notarized application by mail. For more details, go to http://tinyurl.com/d6m3cab. The state needs to update the actual marriage certificate, as well as divorce forms. The marriage form refers to a bride and groom. The state Department of Health is considering switching those labels to Spouse A and Spouse B, spokesman Tim Church said.
The department also wants to ask couples for their genders on the forms so it can compile statistics. People can weigh in on the proposed changes at a public meeting at 8 a.m. Nov. 28 at 310 Israel Road SE in Tumwater.
State law already extends the benefits of marriage to domestic partners, a status that will now expire for younger same-sex couples but not for the elderly who might lose Social Security or pension benefits by remarrying.
Because of the domestic-partnership law, many companies are already required to offer insurance benefits to their gay and lesbian employees partners.
But some large companies and unions arent subject to state insurance laws, and under federal law they arent required to offer equal benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian workers. A state commission in New Jersey found that about half of all companies there fell into that category.
R-74 might improve coverage for some employees in that situation. The U.S. Department of Labor said in September that any plans that refer to undefined spouses would probably have to cover same-sex and different-sex spouses the same way.
However, employers may be able to avoid that expense by specifically defining spouses in a way that excludes same-sex partners, according to a report on Massachusetts law that could also apply to Washington. A Massachusetts group, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, issued the report last month.
Alternatively, businesses could simply decide not to offer health insurance to spouses of any gender.
Federal employees are one group that will remain denied of benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act. But challenges to the act, along with a California ban on same-sex marriage, are making their way through the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court could weigh in soon.
Opponents of same-sex marriage hoped their winning streak from 32 states would hold up this year, in case the Supreme Court weighs public opinion in making its decision. But last week Minnesota rejected a ban and Maryland, Maine and Washington became the first states where voters approved same-sex marriage.
Will it have an effect on the justices?
Its hard to know, said Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, a lawyer and one of the Washington laws champions in the Legislature. But it sure doesnt hurt for the Supreme Court to see whats happened in these four states.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826