Marriage-Equivalent: Yes; Marriage: Not Yet

The election results in Maine and Washington state send a discouraging message: marriage-equivalent domestic partnership registration appears reliably sound, but full and equal marriage is not yet within reach in many jurisdictions. In both instances the state legislatures had enacted favorable laws, but they were subject to a “popular” vote because of an initiative campaign. On election day domestic partnership was affirmed in Washington while marriage was defeated in Maine. While the political dynamics of each state differs, the trend seems pretty clear to me. Moreover, this sort of compromise is consistent with what is happening in other states, including California.

Maine still has a “marriage-light” domestic partnership registration that offers some, but not all of the benefits of marriage, but it is unclear if Maine will recognize civil unions or marriages entered into in other states. Similar non-recognition problems are arising in many of the marriage-equivalent states, although California recently enacted legislation that provides full recognition for our-of-state marriages.

The main challenge for couples living in these states is figuring out whether to sign up for the marriage-equivalent (in Washington) or marriage-light (in Maine) registration , get married out of state, or rely solely on private contracts and estate planning documents — or all of the above. Moreover, many of the tax and benefits problems that plague so many of the marriage-equivalent situations apply to couples living in Maine and Washington. Making It Legal provides a useful guide through this difficult decision-making process, and we urge couples to carry on despite the disappointing political news, to make sure that their own personal affairs are still in good legal order.

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