It is part of Referendum 74 that could take people by surprise.
If R-74 passes it will legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington and also change laws regarding domestic partnerships. But people who are currently registered with the state as domestic partners would have to make a choice about their future, a big choice that could spark some complicated and sensitive conversations in thousands of households.
Most domestic partners would have to marry, dissolve their partnership, or do nothing. But the “do-nothing” alternative would eventually mean “marriage.” In June of 2014, those who haven’t either married or legally broken up their partnership would automatically be considered married in the eyes of the state.
“It is serious” said Mary Dispenza, a 72-year-old lesbian. She and her longtime partner, Mary Ann Woodruff, were third in line to register when Washington first allowed domestic partnerships.
“Marriage is a serious thing. First of all it’s about love and is our love such that we want to live a lifetime together.”
There is little doubt about the choice they would make and how they would go about it. They would opt for not only marriage but a wedding ceremony their families could enjoy and take part in. They wouldn’t wait for the state of Washington to notify them.
“l can’t imagine getting up in the morning and having oatmeal and getting a piece of paper that says ‘Guess what, now you’re married,” said Mary Ann. “We don’t know what a wedding is going to look like for us. But I think if it passes we’re sure going to have one.”
But she also said other gay and lesbian couples will have harder choices to make, pointing to the case of two of their good friends who aren’t necessarily cut out for marriage.
“She has said to her partner ‘I don’t care what the law is. Don’t even think about asking me to marry you,’” she said.
The Secretary of State’s office estimates about 10 percent of the nearly 10,000 current registered domestic partnerships are heterosexual. As long as one partner is 62 years or older, those people will not have to make the same kind of choice; their legal relationship can stay the same.
A recent KING5 poll shows R-74 getting about 55 percent support.