A Certified Clusterfuck

Making marriage licenses gender-neutral got complicated.

It was a clusterfuck, but marriage certificates should soon be as gay-friendly as all get-out.

With the hard-fought struggle for marriage equality behind us in Washington, last week's decisions over what the hell to put on the new marriage certificates rank as mere formalities. But when it comes to government, never think that mere formalities can't turn overnight into bureaucratic clusterfucks.

First we heard that the new certificates likely would be completely gender-neutral, replacing the terms "bride" and "groom" with "spouse A" and "spouse B." A win for a post-gender world, yes, but there was a catch: Those nonjudgmental sheets of equality wouldn't be available at most courthouses by December 6, the first day the state would issue the certificates.

Then we heard from the state Department of Health that some folks weren't totally stoked about getting rid of the "bride" and "groom" language altogether. According to a DOH press release distributed Thursday afternoon, more than 100 comments were taken on the matter, either in writing or at a public forum held Wednesday in Olympia. Most preferred giving people the option of "bride," "groom," or "spouse," and that's the plan Secretary of Health Mary Selecky approved on Thursday. The form will also add the term "parent" alongside references to the "mother" and "father" of applicants, the department said.

Still, with compromise at hand and no gender identities assumed, remaining was the issue of whether a whole bunch of lovebirds would be signing outdated forms come wedding day. Sounding like a Steve Martin movie yet?

"Every county is a little different," DOH spokesman Tim Church wrote Seattle Weekly on Thursday. "We wanted to get them the state form as soon as possible so they have a few days to update their systems. We finished our public-input process at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and quickly looked at the input and came up with a final decision to give counties as much time as possible."

The Seattle Times reported that it was unlikely that King County would be up to speed come midnight Wednesday. But Cameron Satterfield, spokesman for the King County Recorder's Office, disabused us of that notion, in evocative language: "We're working hot and heavy on it," he said of efforts to update King County's computer system.

Satterfield said Recorder's Office employees typically take applications from couples looking to marry, and then enter their information into fields via the county's computer program, which places that information in the correct location on marriage certificates. He says it usually takes two weeks to update this system, but they hope to speed the process in anticipation of the coming same-sex-marriage rush.

If that fails, however, the county plans to "print a bunch of hard copies" for December 6, says Satterfield, and do things the old- fashioned way.

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