Seattle town Hall answers same-sex marriage questions


by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

Posted on December 4, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 4 at 8:02 AM

SEATTLE -- Hundreds filled Town Hall in Seattle Monday night to learn more about the laws surrounding same-sex marriage, which becomes legal this week in Washington state. 

But for all of the talk about law and structure, the event was also quite emotional.  State Senator Ed Murray, who is openly gay and spent 17 years fighting for same-sex marriage, held back tears while speaking to the group about couples who are preparing for "something that they did not dream was possible -- and it is possible."

Jeff Wagner and Brian Smith, who will celebrate their 8-year anniversary Tuesday, plan to wait in line Wednesday night for a marriage license, then wait at City Hall to get married Sunday. 

"It means..." Smith said before pausing and staring into Wagner's eyes. "I don't want to cry.  I'm speechless."

A panel of legal experts spent a couple hours addressing various legal issues and answering questions Monday night.  They reminded the crowd that religious institutions are immune from the state's new law.

"Clergy will still have the right not to perform a marriage for anyone they don't want to," David Ward of Legal Voice said.  

While marriage in Washington comes wuth more than 400 rights and benefits, those rights vanish in the 41 states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.  The federal government also does not recognize same-sex marriages, which means couples cannot file federal tax returns jointly

"Under federal law there are over 1000 rights that we do not have access to yet," said Hank Balson, attorney with the Public Interest Law Group.  "When you cross the border into a state that doesn't recognize our marriage, all these rights we've become familiar with now won't apply."

So legal experts recommend that same-sex couples consult an attorney to obtain legal documents -- including power of attorney -- when traveling to states that do not recognize their unions.  Such documents can also come in handy in case the marriage comes to an end -- either by death or divorce.

Like marriages for straight couples, licensed or ordained religious officials or certain certified judicial officials can perform same-sex ceremonies. 

Couples married in other states that recognize same-sex marriage will automatically be recognized in Washington starting December 6.

Legal Voice and the Pride Foundation, which arranged Monday night's Town Hall meeting, has posted answers to many other questions: