Now that voters have approved Referendum 74 by a vote of 53.2% to 46.8%, same-sex couples can begin registering for marriage licenses in Washington state on December 6th and start marrying December 9th. Yay!
The 9,904 couples already in a Washington State Registered Domestic Partnership have several options.
If at least one person in the couple is 62 or older on June 30, 2014, the RDP remains an RDP unless the couple chooses to dissolve it. Going forward, RDPs will only be available to couples where one member is 62 or older.
Otherwise, RDP’d couples have two ways to go about converting their RDPs to civil marriages. They can either apply for a marriage license and then go through a marriage ceremony, or wait for the state to give them an automatic upgrade on June 30, 2014.
Because RPDs were a new and unknown institution when first created in 2007, RDP’d couples were issued wallet cards like the one pictured above so that we could prove to those refusing to recognize our legal family status that we were, indeed, a state-recognized family with specific legal rights.
The cards have been a matter for mixed emotions. As intended, they provided a real measure of security to the RDP couple because all a doubter had to do was enter the card’s registration number into a box on the Secretary of State’s website to verify that the RPD was valid. In emergency situations in particular, the timeliness of this decisive verification was crucial.
The other side of the coin, however, was the discomfort of knowing that any stalker could go to the website, input your name and instantly know the identity of your spouse and confirm that you were likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. In a still-largely homophobic world, this was an uncomfortable level of exposure for many, and one that no heterosexual married couple must endure. Civil marriage records are public information but aren’t provided by the state in a searchable online database.
The need to carry around an RDP card was also a constant reminder that same-sex couples were considered less-than.
So to my question: what should we former card-carrying RDPs do with our cards once they become obsolete?
Personally, I’d like to see someone collect them to create some kind of art piece memorializing the stepwise-struggle that Washington state took to achieve marriage equality. I think I’d use them to tile the floor of the hallway leading from the “2nd Class Citizenship” exhibit room to the “Full Citizenship” gallery, but others probably have more creative ideas.
For now, I suppose I’ll throw mine a drawer. Though I despised the second-class status that it embodied, the card represents what was a much-needed and very welcome stop-gap measure of protection for families like mine. Even that sub-equal level of protection was hard-won, and I am intensely proud that we achieved it.
There are a lot of emotions wrapped around my old RDP card, but most of all it represents to me a vital step in American civil rights progress that I am overjoyed to see Washington state move beyond.