US: County holds lottery for first gay couples to receive marriage licenses

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Ten Washington couples will be among the first to receive marriage licenses, as the new equal marriage law comes into effect at 12.01am on Thursday morning.

Thurston County Auditor, Kim Wyman, held a lottery on Monday, in order to choose ten couples, out of fifteen who had requested to receive their licenses at 12.01am, the exact time equal marriage becomes legal in Washington state, reports the Associated Press. 

Ms Wyman said “this is a historic event in Washington… we’re very excited and we want to commemorate that event, and we look forward to giving all of these couples a license.”

The office will close its doors after the first ten licenses are issued, but extended opening hours will take effect from 7am until 6pm on Thursday, in order to accommodate same-sex couples looking to be issued marriage licenses.

Because of a three-day waiting period in Washington, the first day that the marriage certificates can actually be signed at wedding ceremonies is Sunday.

Lisa Brodoff, a Seattle University law professor, and Lynn Grotsky, were the couple chosen first to receive their licence on Thursday morning. They had been together for 31 years, and they plan a private civil wedding on 23 December in Olympia.

Sam Reed, Secretary of State, will certify the election, and Chris Gregoire will sign equal marriage into law for a second time, at a ceremony on Wednesday.

Although Washington’s legislature initially legalised the measure in February of this year, opponents succeeded in gathering enough signatures to force a state ballot.

Then, in November, 54% of Washington voters chose to join Maine and Maryland in passing a referendum in support of marriage rights for gay couples.

Another county in Washington, King County, will also begin issuing marriage licenses at the same time, but no lottery was held there, so couples will line up from 10pm, and its office will issue licenses until 6.30pm.

Last week, Washington State’s Department of Health said it is currently reviewing the text displayed on marriage certificates, with a view to bring it in line with recently introduced equal marriage law.