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AGO 1963 No. 29 - June 03, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


LICENSES ‑- MARRIAGE ‑- EFFECT OF CHAPTER 230, LAWS OF 1963 ‑- EXPIRATION OF TIME VOIDS LICENSE.

Section 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963 (cf. RCW 26.04.180), which provides that a marriage license issued pursuant to the provisions of that chapter shall be void if the marriage is not solemnized within thirty days of the date of issuance of the license applies only to those licenses issued after, and not before, the effective date of the act, June 13, 1963.

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                                                                    June 3, 1963

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 29

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we state as follows:

            Does § 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963, relating to marriage, cancel a marriage license over thirty days old and issued prior to the effective date of the act, June 13, 1963, or does § 3 only apply to those marriage licenses issued after the effective date of the act?

            We answer your question in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963, amending § 1, chapter 107, Laws of 1953 (cf. RCW 26.04.180), reads as follows:

            "The county auditor shall issue no license until the third full day following the filing of the application, exclusive of the date of filing.  A marriage license issued pursuant to the provisions of this chapter shall become void if the marriage is not solemnized within thirty days of the date of the issuance of the license."  (Emphasis supplied to indicate new language.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The legal effect of a retroactive law is to have the law relate back and give to a previous transaction a legal effect different from that which it had under the law in existence.  50 Am.Jur., Statutes, p. 493, § 476.  A general rule as to the retroactive effect of a statute is stated in 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, p. 494, § 478, as follows:

            "The question whether a statute operates retrospectively, or prospectively only, is one of legislative intent.  In determining such intent, the courts have evolved a strict rule of construction against a retrospective operation, and indulge in the presumption that the legislature intended statutes, or amendments thereof, enacted by it to operate prospectively only, and not retroactively.  Indeed, the general rule is that they are to be so construed, where they are susceptible of such interpretation and the intention of the legislature can be satisfied thereby, where such interpretation does not produce results which the legislature may be presumed not to have intended, and where the intention of the legislature to make the statute retroactive is not stated in express terms, or clearly, explicitly, positively, unequivocally, unmistakably, and unambiguously shown by necessary implication . . .  Ordinarily, an intention to give a statute a retroactive operation will not be inferred.  If it is doubtful whether the statute or amendment was intended to operate retrospectively, the doubt should be resolved against such operation. . . ."

            Section 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963, is silent as to its effect on marriage licenses issued prior to the effective date of the act.  It does provide however that it will apply to licenses issued "pursuant to the provisions of this chapter."

            "This chapter," must mean the chapter as of the effective date of the act, namely June 13, 1963.  The word "pursuant" is defined in Black's Law Dictionary, 4th ed., p. 1401, as follows:

            "A following after or following out; . . ."

            Furthermore, persons obtaining a license in accordance with the existing statutory requirements and prior to the effective date of  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] this act, should be presumed to have relied on the fact that they have done all that the statute requires in order to have a marriage solemnized.  Clearly, the legislature would have provided that such persons be given sufficient notice of a restriction in a license issued prior to the effective date of this act, had they intended to give retroactive effect to § 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963.

            InHammack v. Monroe St. Lbr. Co., 54 Wn.2d 224, 230, 339 P.2d 684 (1959), our court in citing from an Idaho case said:

            "'A statute will not be given a retroactive construction by which it will impose liabilities not existing at the time of its passage. . . ."

            InNelson v. Dept. of Labor & Industries, 9 Wn.2d 621, 627, 115 P.2d 1014 (1941), our court in stating the general rule said:

            "It is the general rule that statutes have no retroactive effect unless the legislative intent is so expressed therein. . . ."

            InGreat Northern R. Co. v. Cohn, 3 Wn.2d 672, 693, 101 P.2d 985 (1940), our court refused to apply a fuel oil tax to a distributor who had acquired fuel oil prior to the effective date of a new act, although the act taxed distributors who acquire fuel oil.  The court said:

            "The rule is that the intention of the legislature is to be deduced from what it said, and that a tax will not be extended by construction to things not named or described in the statute. . . .

            ". . . The well-settled rule, which needs no citation of sustaining authority, is that a statute will be given a prospective interpretation unless by its terms it is expressly declared to be retroactive."

            In light of the well-established rule against giving a statute retroactive effect, and the absence of any legislative intent to do so, we conclude that § 3, chapter 230, Laws of 1963, has prospective application only.  Thus, any license issued prior to the effective date of the act, June 13, 1963, will be unaffected by the new legislation.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

HERBERT GELMAN
Assistant Attorney General

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