Earlier this week state Department of Health Communications Director Tim Church told Seattle Weekly that a plan to go gender-neutral on marriage and divorce certificates in the spirit of R74 would likely lead to the new categories "Spouse A" and "Spouse B" replacing the traditional "Bride" and "Groom." Apparently, however, folks weren't terribly into that idea.
According to a press release distributed by the Department of Health Thursday afternoon, over 100 comments were taken on the matter, either in writing or at a public forum held Wednesday in Olympia. Most preferred giving people the option of "Bride," "Groom," or the gender-neutral "Spouse," and Thursday that's the plan Secretary of Health Mary Selecky signed off on.
According to the press release:
Revisions to Washington's marriage certificate to conform with the new same-sex marriage law gives couples a full range of options -- gender-neutral or gender-specific terms. The new form has been sent to local auditors around the state. The form is effective December 6 when the law takes effect. Marriage certificates are filed after the marriage.
Secretary of Health Mary Selecky approved the rules-change to add "spouse" to the existing language that includes "bride" and "groom." Couples can check a box to choose the term they prefer. The original proposed change was to replace "bride" and "groom" with "spouse," but many public comments suggested providing optional language, and Selecky agreed. More than 100 public comments were taken in writing and at a hearing in Tumwater November 28.
The state health department collects records of all people who marry or divorce in Washington, and provide copies of records to the public upon request. Current forms use gender-specific terms, including bride and groom. The new form also adds space for gender, and adds the term "parent" to the words "mother" and "father" of the applicants.
Following up on our earlier piece, Thursday on The Daily Weekly we noted that while the state Department of Health had a goal of having the updated marriage certificates available by Dec. 6, the Seattle Times reported yesterday that many counties -- including King -- wouldn't have enough time to update their systems with the new forms prior to the expected same-sex marriage rush that will accompany R74 becoming the law of the land.
Now that the new form is, in fact, a reality -- almost a week before Washington's marriage equality law takes effect -- will that still be the case in some counties?
"Every county is a little different," writes Church this morning via email to Seattle Weekly. "We wanted to get them the state form as soon as possible so they have a few days to update their systems. We finished our public input process at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and quickly looked at the input and came up with a final decision to give counties as much time as possible.
"We sent it to them mid-day yesterday, which gives local auditors almost a week (4.5 business days). If counties choose to, they can print out the form we have provided and use that until their computer systems are updated," Church continues. "We know some will do it that way."
UPDATE: Although the Seattle Times wrote yesterday that new, gender-neutral marriage certificates weren't likely to be available in King County by Dec. 6, Cameron Satterfield, spokesman for the King County Recorder's Office, tells Seattle Weekly this morning that while there's a chance the agency's computer system won't be updated in time to have the new marriage certificates available for employees to complete electronically, at the very least the forms WILL be available in hard copy form for same-sex couples looking to tie the knot come Dec. 6.
"We're working hot and heavy on it," says Satterfield of efforts to update the King County computer system.
Satterfield says Recorder's Office employees typically take applications from couples looking to marry and then enter their information into fields via the county's computer program, which places that information in the correct location on marriage certificates. He says it usually takes two weeks to update this system, but they hope to speed up the process in anticipation of the coming same-sex marriage rush.
If that fails, however, the county plans to "print a bunch of hard copies" for Dec. 6, says Satterfield, and do things the old fashioned way.
Here's a sample of the shiny, new marriage certificate: