With much fanfare and even some post-midnight ceremonies, same-sex marriage became legal in Washington two years ago today.
But after boosting state marriage statistics by 8,429 to 49,590 in 2013, the number of same-sex marriages may drop in 2014 as it becomes legal in more states.
“I think we saw the uptick in that first year,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said. “There was a certain amount of pent-up demand that got over and done with in the first eight months or so.”
Although the state keeps annual statistics on the number of same-sex marriages, those figures won’t be available until sometime next year. They could benefit from a big spike on July 1, when Washington converted 3,352 domestic partnerships for same-sex couples to marriages as part of the 2012 law.
Other than those conversions, the total number of same-sex marriages in Washington this year will likely be down. When the referendum passed in 2012, Washington was in a distinct minority, one of only nine states where it was possible. Since then, same-sex marriage has become legal in 35 states – 24 by court order, eight by legislative action and two others by popular vote.
Among those states are Idaho and Montana, which were among the most common addresses for same-sex couples from other states filing for licenses in Spokane County, Dalton said. Of the 2,675 marriages last year in the county, 336 involved same-sex couples.
Opponents of Referendum 74, which affirmed a law passed by the 2012 Legislature, predicted it would generate lawsuits involving people who would refuse to be involved in same-sex weddings on religious grounds. The law allows any religious institution that forbids same-sex marriage to refuse a request to use its facilities, but the state’s anti-discrimination laws don’t allow businesses who serve heterosexual weddings to refuse same-sex couples, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
So far only one dispute has wound up in court and is being watched closely by both sides of the political debate.
Ferguson’s office filed a consumer protection lawsuit in April 2013 against a Tri-Cities florist for refusing a request for flowers at a gay wedding. The florist, Baronnelle Stutzman, countersued and the trial is scheduled for next spring. Attorneys for the state and Stutzman were in Benton County Superior Court on Friday, the eve of the law’s anniversary, arguing whether personal claims against her should be dropped if the claims against her business continue.
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