If Washington voters approve same-sex marriage next month, eastbound drivers on Interstate 90 wouldn’t hit another county where same-sex couples could marry until entering New York.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton says Spokane’s border location may increase the number of out-of-state same-sex couples who arrive here to marry, but other factors may keep that number relatively low.
For one thing, Washington has a three-day waiting period, so it’s not as simple as a day trip to Spokane. Dalton added that couples from beyond Idaho and Montana would probably fly and be more likely to head to Seattle.
Most importantly, if the couple’s home state doesn’t recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, they may not feel it’s worth the effort, she said.
Spokane resident Brandon Rapez-Betty and his fiance felt it would not be worth the extra effort of going to another state because it wouldn’t be recognized in Washington. They held a large wedding ceremony last month in Spokane.
They became engaged before the Legislature approved same-sex marriage and opted not to push back the date in hopes of a state-sanctioned marriage because they didn’t want their day contingent on the vote.
“We’re going to be together regardless of what the voters say,” Rapez-Betty said.
If Referendum 74 is approved, the law won’t take effect until Dec. 6. Since there’s a three-day waiting requirement, no same-sex couples would be officially married until after midnight on Dec. 9. Dalton said no county auditor’s offices plan to open early on Dec. 6.
Chris Nichols helped make a presentation about the economic benefits of same-sex marriage to the Inland Northwest Business Association earlier this year. He pointed to a study from the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles estimating that 9,500 same-sex couples would marry in Washington in the first three years it was legal. Considering Spokane County’s population, about 650 of those marriages would happen in Spokane County, said Nichols, co-owner of Chairs Coffee in north Spokane.
There are usually between 2,000 and 2,500 marriages in Spokane County each year, and that figure often is affected by deployments at Fairchild Air Force Base, Dalton said.
Dalton, co-chairwoman of the recording committee of the Washington State Association of County Auditors, was on a task force earlier this year that proposed changes to the state Department of Health’s marriage certificate as a result of the Legislature’s approval of same-sex marriage.
“The form itself had to be rendered gender-neutral,” Dalton said.
Marriage forms currently have lines for “bride” and “groom.”
In the proposed form, couples will be asked to list “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.” Each partner would be asked to check off a box indicating his or her sex.
The form still has to be finalized by the Department of Health, Dalton said. One possible addition may be spaces after each spouse’s name for “Name after marriage.”
Rapez-Betty, who hasn’t legally changed his last name from Betty, said he and his partner are waiting to change their names until after the vote. If the referendum loses, he said, they will grudgingly apply for a domestic partnership, which he considers a “second-class status.”
If it passes, he said, they will officially marry in Leavenworth on Dec. 26.