Washington State, Following Same-Sex Marriage Vote, Uses Gender-Neutral Terms

By Dina Abou Salem

Nov 29, 2012 5:16pm

Washington State’s Department of Health sought public feedback at a Nov. 28 hearing to decide on gender-neutral wording in marriage and divorce certificates. It was an inevitable consequence of the newly-passed Referendum 74, allowing same-sex marriage in the state.

“The forms should acknowledge the realities of gender and that it is fluid. It should respect the diversity of all families,” Equal Rights Washington spokesperson Joshua Friedes told ABCNews.com.

For many lawmakers in Washington, gender-neutral terminology extended beyond same-sex marriage.

“Our fight for marriage equality is in part a fight for gender equality, not just for the gay and lesbian community. It is a fight for equality of sexes and the idea that marriage does not in itself mean that women are subjugated to men,” House Representative Jamie Pedersen told ABCNews.com

Referendum 74 appeared on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election. It will take effect on Dec. 6.

“People can obtain a marriage license on Dec. 6 and the license will take three days to take effect. We are working on updating the terminology by Dec. 6,” Washington State Department of Health Communications Director Tim Church told ABCNews.com. He said that gender-specific terms like bride, groom, husband, and wife, would be replaced with “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.”

Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk said, “This [R-74] is a clear win… This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day and the wedding celebrations to come.”

Rep. Pedersen has worked seventeen years on equal marriage. “I am ecstatic!” said Pedersen. “My long-time partner and I have four children and we plan to get married on our anniversary.”

“We need to continue working on issues of parenthood — for example, the criminal prohibitions for paying surrogate mothers. A lot of couples go to other states like Oregon to have a surrogate mother. Also, our birth certificate statute hasn’t caught up yet and we need to work on that, but there are a lot of signs that the world is moving forward at a faster pace toward equality,” he said.

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