Holy matrimony! same-sex marriage boosts wedding numbers

Lopez Island
Lopez Island's Ron Hall, left, and Robert Hermann display their marriage certificate, which the longtime couple applied for and received at the San Juan County auditor's office in early December, 2012.
— image credit: Journal file photo

Turns out that 2013 is well on its way to being a banner year for love, honor and commitment in Washington state, and in the San Juan Islands as well.

Credit the legalization of same-sex marriage, at least in part, for the spike in the number of couples tying the proverbial knot, both at home and across the state.

"I think the numbers show a lot of people our taking advantage of this new found freedom," San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley said. "There was a rush at the end of the year because of the change in the law and we've seen a lot of people from out of state coming here to get married."

Washington became one of 15 states plus the District of Columbia to legalize same-sex marriage when voters approved Referendum 74 in November of 2012. The measure passed with 54 percent of the statewide vote and 71 percent of ballots cast by San Juan County voters.

In 2012, a total of 150 marriage licenses were issued by the San Juan County auditor's office. That number includes nine issued to same-sex couples after Dec. 9, the date that the same-sex marriage law went into effect, but before the end of the year.

San Juan Island's Karen Kuester and Susan Moon were among the first in line at the auditor's office once the law took effect. They paid the $60 license fee, abided the mandatory 3-day waiting period and got married on the winter solstice of 2012.

Even after more than three decades together, Kuester said marriage adds a new air of excitement and sense of purpose to the couple's longstanding relationship.

"We did feel different afterwards and I think we still have a feeling that things have changed," she said. "I think our three kids we're almost happier for us than we were. We've seen nothing but positives and I really like being part of something that can help people understand our changing society and that us being married shouldn't seem like a threat to anyone."

As of mid-December of 2013, of 205 marriage licenses issued in San Juan County, 47 were for same-sex couples, roughly 22 percent of the grand total.

But that's not all, as far as matrimonial data goes.

While the auditor's office keeps tabs on applications to wed and the number of marriage licenses it issues, the state Department of Health tracks wedding ceremonies and where those ceremonies occur. San Juan County sits near the top of that statistical ladder as well.

Between Dec. 9 of 2012 and Sept. 30 of this year, a total of 389 wedding ceremonies took place in the San Juans. Of those, 80 were for same-sex couples. At roughly 20 percent, San Juan ranks fifth among the state's 39 counties when same-sex marriages are calculated as a percentage of the number of total weddings overall.

Statewide, of the 42,408 weddings that happened between those dates roughly 7,701, or 16.6 percent, were same-sex marriages, according to DOH.

Henley notes that some of the state's border counties, like San Juan, Island and Clark, have the greatest percentages of same-sex marriages. The numbers appear to bear that out.

In the DOH data, King and Jefferson counties rank second and third, respectively, and Clark County, home of the city of Vancouver and neighbor of the Portland, Ore. metropolitan area, tops all others, at 30 percent. At 19 percent, San Juan's neighboring Island County ranks sixth.



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