LGBT rights in Washington (state)

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Map of USA WA.svg
StatusLegal since 1976
(Legislative repeal)
Gender identitySurgery not required to change birth certificate
Discrimination protectionsSexual orientation and gender identity or expression protections
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2012
Domestic partnership since 2007

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the U.S. state of Washington have evolved significantly since the late 20th century. LGBT people are fully protected from discrimination; Washington enacted LGBT protections in 2006. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2012, and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt. Conversion therapy on minors has also been illegal since 2018.

Washington is frequently referred to as one of the United States' most LGBT-friendly states.[1] A substantial majority of Washingtonians support same-sex marriage,[2] and LGBT rights more broadly.


Several Native American tribes in modern-day Washington recognize individuals who act, behave and live as the opposite gender, now referred to as "two-spirit". Among the Quileute people, such individuals are known as yah'wa. After being created from the northern portion of the Oregon Territory in 1853, the newly-created Washington Territory adopted all its laws from Oregon. At the time, the Oregon Territory did not criminalize sodomy (it did, however, enact a sodomy law later that year). The Washington Territory thus did not possess a sodomy law at its creation, nor did it ever pass one later on; the Washington Territory being one of the few United States territories never to criminalize sodomy. In 1893, shortly after statehood, in the case of State v. Place, the Washington Supreme Court took note of the absence of a sodomy law. The Washington State Legislature acted swiftly, enacting Washington's first ever sodomy law only 19 days after the Place ruling. It prohibited "crimes against nature" with ten to fourteen years' imprisonment. Over the following years, the courts convicted multiple people of sodomy, though also rejected some cases due to lack of evidence. As was the case for sodomy laws around the country at the time, the law punished both heterosexual and homosexual conduct and criminalized fellatio (oral sex) and anal intercourse.[3]

Washington enacted a sterilization law in 1909, permitting "habitual criminals" to be forcefully sterilized. The only known person to be sterilized under the law was a (heterosexual) man in 1912 accused of statutory rape, though he was later found innocent of the crime. The law was amended in 1921, providing for the "possible sterilization of [...] moral degenerates and sexual perverts". The Washington Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1942, holding that the "mental condition [of the accused] did not allow them fully to understand the nature of the notice". Those convicted of sodomy were further defined as "sexual psychopaths" under a 1949 psychopathic offender law. In 1953, the Supreme Court ruled that non-penetrative sex could not be considered sodomy, and in 1967, in the case of State v. Rhinehart, upheld the sodomy law as constitutional. The defendant, Keith Rhinehart, challenged the law as a violation of his right to privacy and on the grounds of vagueness and the establishment of religion, though the Court held that these contentions had "no merit".[3] In 1972, a same-sex couple holding hands at a Seattle skating rink were arrested, resulting in protests and renewed debate surrounding the sodomy law.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Washington repealed its laws that criminalized consensual sodomy in June 1975,[4] effective July 1, 1976.[5] Initially, the age of consent was different for heterosexual and homosexual conduct, though was unified in 1988 at 16.[3]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

A newly married couple leaving Seattle City Hall is greeted by well-wishers on the first day same-sex marriages are celebrated in Washington state.

Since 2001, Washington state has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.[6]

The state adopted a statute defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman in 1998. In the 2006 case Andersen v. King County, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that law.[7] Since 2007, Washington state has recognized its own state-registered domestic partnerships, which are considered equivalent to the domestic partnerships, civil unions, and marriages of same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. It has also recognized same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships established in other jurisdictions since then.[8]

Since 2011, Washington state has recognized same-sex marriages performed elsewhere as the equivalent of its own domestic partnerships.[9][10]

Governor Chris Gregoire signed a law authorizing same-sex marriages on February 13, 2012, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force a voter referendum on the legislation.[11][12] Voters approved the law in the November election by a margin of 54% to 46%.[13] Same-sex marriages have been recognized by the state since that law took effect on December 6.[14] The law also provided that Washington's registered domestic partnerships convert automatically to marriages on June 30, 2014, if not dissolved before that date.[15]

Federal income tax[edit]

The Internal Revenue Service ruled in May 2010 that its rules governing communal property income for married couples extend to couples who file taxes in a community property state that recognizes domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages. Couples with registered domestic partnerships in Washington, a community property state, must first combine their annual income and then each must claim half that amount as his or her income for federal tax purposes.[16] However, filing such returns precludes electronic filing,[17][18] and Washington has no state income tax independently justifying a complex filing. In certain circumstances, the IRS allows affected couples to disregard community property rules.[19] Since April 2011, Washington has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as equivalent to its domestic partnerships,[10] with the result that community property rules now apply to these couples as well, when residing in Washington.

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Google at the 2017 Seattle Pride parade
Seattle Pride parade 2012

Washington state law permits a legally competent adult to petition to adopt without respect to marital status.[20] Same-sex couples can adopt jointly and can arrange second-parent adoptions as well.[21][22]

Additionally, lesbian couples are allowed to access IVF treatments in the state.[23]

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in Washington since January 1, 2019. Couples, regardless of their gender, marital status or sexual orientation, may undertake surrogacy arrangements.[24][25]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Washington state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.[26] The protections were added in 2006 with Washington House Bill 2661, signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire, a member of the Democratic Party. Discrimination based on sexual orientation in public employment had already been prohibited since 1991 by an executive order of Governor Booth Gardner.

On March 7, 2014, Mark Zmuda filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against Eastside Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Seattle charging illegal termination of his employment as an assistant principal and swimming coach at the school in December 2013 after his same-sex marriage entered into the previous July became known to school officials.[27] The Archdiocese was named as a defendant because it has no direct authority over the school but, according to the complaint, ordered his dismissal.[28]

Arlene's Flowers in Richland was fined $1,000 in February 2015 for violating the state's anti-discrimination law for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.[29] In February 2017, the fine was unanimously upheld by the Washington Supreme Court, which held that the florist had no right under the U.S. Constitution's Free Exercise Clause or Free Speech Cause to refuse services to the couple due to her religious beliefs.[29]

Moreover, the state's anti-bullying law prohibits bullying on the basis of sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, honorably discharged veteran or military status, presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability, or use of a trained dog guide or service animal. The law also explicitly includes cyberbullying and harassment, and applies to all public schools and public charter schools.[30][31]

Washington state LGBTQ commission[edit]

In April 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill (House vote 67-28 and Senate vote 30-16) to establish the Washington state LGBTQ commission, which will "work with state agencies to develop and implement policies to address the needs of the community". The Governor signed the bill into law on May 13, 2019 and it went into effect on July 28, 2019.[32][33]

Hate crime law[edit]

Washington state law criminalizes "malicious harassment" and violence motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.[34]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

In order for a transgender person in Washington to change their legal gender on their birth certificate, they must submit to the Washington State Department of Health a copy of the current birth certificate, a certified copy of a name change court order, a completed Court Order Legal Name Change Request Form and a letter from the requestor stating the following information, as listed on the current birth certificate: name, date of birth, place of birth and names of parents. Furthermore, transgender persons may also change their gender on their driver's license and identification cards.[35]

In February 2016, the Washington State Senate voted 25-24 to defeat a bill that would have repealed a new rule issued by the state's Human Rights Commission that allows transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.[36] One Democrat voted in favor of repealing the new rule, while 3 Republicans voted against repealing it. Following the bill's defeat, supporters began collecting signatures to have the issue on the ballot in November 2016. However, in July, it was revealed that not enough signatures had been collected.[37]

Since January 27, 2018, the Washington State Department of Health has allowed people to register their sex as "gender X" on their birth certificates.[38] A similar sex option on driver's licenses will be available from October 1, 2019.[39][40]

Conversion therapy[edit]

On February 13, 2014, the Washington House of Representatives voted 94-4 in favor of a bill that would have prohibited health care providers from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors.[41][42] The state Senate, controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus, took no action on the legislation.[43]

Another bill was introduced in 2015. It passed the Senate in March. The House then approved a modified version of the bill in a 60-37 vote.[44] However, in April, the Senate voted 27-22 to refuse to consider the modified bill.[45]

After Democrats took control of the Washington Senate at the end of 2017, Senate Bill 5722, banning conversion therapy, was approved 32–16, with 1 "excused from the chamber" (due to disorderly conduct) on January 19, 2018.[46] The bill then passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 66-32 and had to go back to the Senate for another vote due to technical amendments. The Senate later passed the amended bill by a vote of 33-16. Governor Jay Inslee signed it into law on March 28, 2018.[47] The law went into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative term (i.e. June 7, 2018).

Local bans[edit]

On August 1, 2016, Seattle voted to ban conversion therapy on minors.[48][49] Councilmember Lorena González sponsored the ban, and it and was unanimously approved by all other eight city commissioners. Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code 14.21, on August 3 and it took effect on October 2, 2016.[50]

Public opinion[edit]

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 73% of Washington residents supported same-sex marriage, while 21% were opposed and 6% were unsure.[51]

Public opinion for LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Washington
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute January 3-December 30, 2018 1,433 ? 75% 19% 6%
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 1,762 ? 73% 20% 7%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 1,923 ? 75% 19% 6%

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1976)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1988)
Anti-discrimination laws in every area Yes (Both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2012)
Recognition of same-sex couples (e.g. domestic partnerships) Yes (Since 2007)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Lesbians, gays and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (Since 2011)
Transgender people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Conversion therapy banned Yes
Right to change legal gender without sex reassignment surgery Yes
Third gender option on birth certificates and driver's licenses No/Yes (Since 2018 for birth certificates, from October 2019 for driver's licenses)[52][53]
LGBT anti-bullying law in schools Yes[54]
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (1 year deferral period)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The best and worst states for LGBT equality".
  2. ^ The American Values Atlas: Rhode Island
  3. ^ a b c The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States: Washington
  4. ^ William N. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 201n, available online, accessed April 10, 2011
  5. ^ Stein, Alan (November 29, 2012). "Marriage Equality and Gay Rights in Washington". History Link.
  6. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  7. ^ "Washington Supreme Court rules in favor of Defense of Marriage Act". Catholic News Agency. July 26, 2006. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  8. ^ Washington's 2007 Domestic Partnership Law — A Detailed Look
  9. ^ Seattle Times: Molly Rosbach, "Washington domestic partnership law gets adjusted," April 5, 2011, accessed April 6, 2011
  10. ^ a b Washington State Legislature: 2010-2011 Session Laws of the State of Washington, accessed February 18, 2012, pages 385-386 of an 1118-page PDF
  11. ^ "Gay marriage in Washington state blocked by proposed referendum". June 6, 2012.
  12. ^ "Gregoire signs gay marriage into law". February 13, 2012. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  13. ^ "Referendum Measure No. 74 Concerns marriage for same-sex couples". November 27, 2012. Archived from the original on December 14, 2012. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  14. ^ Khouri, Andrew (December 5, 2012). "Same-sex couples can get marriage licenses in Washington state". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  15. ^ Turnbull, Lornet (February 16, 2014). "State to same-sex domestic partners: You're about to be married". Seattle Times. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  16. ^ New York Times: Tara Siegel Bernard, "Tax Season Gets Trickier for Some Gay Couples," March 29, 2011, accessed April 5, 2011
  17. ^ USA Today: Sandra Block, "State and federal tax laws conflict for same-sex couples," February 13, 2012, accessed February 18, 2012
  18. ^ WorldWideWeb Tax "How does living in a community property state effect my tax return?" Archived 2011-12-02 at the Wayback Machine, accessed February 18, 2012
  19. ^ Internal Revenue Service: Publication 555, Community Property, accessed February 17, 2012, pages 7-8
  20. ^ "Washington Adoption Law". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  21. ^ "Adoption in Washington State: A Lifelong Developmental Journey" (PDF). Washington State Department of Social & Health Services. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  22. ^ Schreiber, Tera. "Almost Hitched: Long-term Relationships and the Law in Washington State". Seattle Woman. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  23. ^ Same Sex Couples Overlake Reproductive Health
  24. ^ Commercial surrogacy exploits women, opponents say
  25. ^ SB 6037 - 2017-18
  26. ^ Human Rights Campaign: Washington Non-Discrimination Law Archived 2012-03-11 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 11, 2011
  27. ^ Morris-Young, Dan (March 7, 2014). "Vice principal fired for same-sex marriage files lawsuit". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  28. ^ Connelly, Joel (March 6, 2014). "Ousted Eastside Catholic vice principal fired for his gay marriage will sue". Seattle PI. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  29. ^ a b Thompson, Lynn (16 February 2017). "Richland florist discriminated against gay couple by refusing service, state Supreme Court rules". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  30. ^ Washington Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies
  31. ^ WAC 392-190-0555 Discriminatory harassment
  32. ^ "SB 5356 - 2019-20".
  33. ^ "Washington Senate Bill 5356". LegiScan.
  34. ^ Human Rights Campaign: Washington Hate Crimes Law Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 11, 2011
  35. ^ "THE RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON STATE". ACLU of Washington Foundation. May 27, 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  36. ^ Reynolds, Daniel (February 11, 2016). "Transphobic Bathroom Bill Dies in Washington State". Advocate. Here Media Inc. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  37. ^ Camden, Jim (July 7, 2016). "'Transgender bathroom' initiative won't make Washington ballot". News. The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  38. ^ New state rule allows gender X on birth certificates
  39. ^ "Washington soon to allow X gender designation on driver's licenses". Dayton 24/7 Now. 31 July 2019.
  40. ^ Perez, Devin (31 July 2019). "Washington State to add Gender X to drivers licenses for those who don't identity as male or female". iFiberone.
  41. ^ "Bill to prohibit conversion therapy on LGBT youth passes Washington House". LGBTQ Nation. February 14, 2014.
  42. ^ HB 2451 - 2013-14 - Restricting the practice of sexual orientation change efforts., Washington State Legislature
  43. ^ "'Pray the gay away' therapy ban stuck in state Senate". Seattle Times. February 27, 2014.
  44. ^ Associated Press (April 10, 2015). "Washington state House approves ban on conversion therapy for LGBT youth". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  45. ^ Washington State GOP Blocks Bill to Ban Abusive “Gay Conversion” Therapy Including Electric Shocks and Ice Baths
  46. ^ "Senate passes conversion ban, transgender bullying bills". The Olympian. January 19, 2018.
  47. ^ SB 5722 - 2017-18
  48. ^ Seattle Bans Conversion Therapy for Minors
  49. ^ Seattle bans gay conversion 'therapy'
  50. ^ AN ORDINANCE related to human rights; and adding a new Chapter 14.21 to the Seattle Municipal Code to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on minors.
  51. ^ Consulting, Epicenter. "PRRI – American Values Atlas".
  52. ^ "Washington could add third gender option for state-issued ID cards by October". Q13 News. July 31, 2019.
  53. ^ Villarreal, Daniel (August 2, 2019). "Washington & Pennsylvania now offer non-binary options on state ID cards". LGBTQ Nation.
  54. ^ "Safe Schools Laws".