Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Washington Could Be Seventh State to Allow Same-sex Marriage


Legislation is wending its way through both chambers of the Washington State legislature that if enacted would make Washington the seventh state where same-sex marriage is legal. It could happen: a sufficient number of Senators for passage in that chamber have said they would vote for it if it reaches the Senate floor, and Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said earlier this month that she would sign a measure
legalizing same-sex marriage in her state if it reaches her desk.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations and Tribal Relations & Elections held an executive session concerning the bill on Jan. 26. In a 4-3 vote, the committee approved a version of Senate Bill 6239 that reflects the House version, H.B. 2516.

The basic provisions of the legislation would:

  1. allow same-sex couples to marry;
  2. exempt religious organizations from (1) having to solemnize a same-sex marriage and (2) providing accommodations, goods and services related to the solemnization or celebration of such a marriage; and
  3. provide that a state-registered domestic partnership in which the parties are of the same sex and under the age of 62 will be merged into a marriage as of June 30, 2014, unless the parties marry or dissolve their domestic partnership before that date.
  4. The House Committee on the Judiciary is set to hold an executive session on the House version, H.B. 2516, on Jan. 30. After committee action in the House and Senate is finished, each chamber must take up the legislation.

What This Means for Employers

At this point, employers do not need to make provision for same-sex spouses in Washington State. If the legislation becomes law, employers will then need to adjust their
policies and procedures to accommodate the expansion of who a spouse may be under the law in that state.

But even if the measure does become law in Washington state, employers need to remember that federal law and regulation do not recognize same-sex marriages and do not
accord the same treatment and protections to same-sex spouses as they do to opposite-sex spouses.

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