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Washington state makes 7: Governor signs gay marriage law

February 13, 2012 |  2:12 pm

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"My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow!" state Sen. Ed Murray declared Monday as Washington became the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a boisterous ceremony at the state Capitol in Olympia, Gov. Christine Gregoire -- a Catholic who weathered strong opposition, including a last-minute "action alert" from the state's Catholic Church leadership -- signed legislation to give same-sex couples the same right to a marriage license as anyone else.

"Look into your hearts and ask yourselves: 'Isn't it time?' " said Gregoire, as cheering supporters chanted "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"We did what was just. We did what was fair. We stood for equality, and we did it together, Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, young and old, and a number of our faith organizations. I'm proud of who and what we are as a state," the governor said.

MAP: Gay rights timeline

There was a decidedly festive mood at the statehouse, where the debate in the state Legislature -- which approved the bill on split votes in both houses -- had been measured, lacking the name-calling and fireworks that often characterizes the issue.

The legislation exempts churches, religious institutions and members of the clergy from participating in same-sex marriages if it goes against their beliefs -- a compromise aimed at hundreds of churches whose members phoned and emailed lawmakers in an attempt to defeat the bill. Several faith organizations signed on in support of the measure, however, Gregoire noted.

"Years from now, our kids will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, but those of us who lived through the last 20 years appreciate how challenging this has been," said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill through its contentious charge through the Legislature. On Monday, he introduced onlookers to his "future husband," a former high school administrator who stood on the sidelines cradling one of the couple's four children.

The issue is far from over, however. Conservative and religious leaders have vowed to begin collecting signatures on a referendum to overturn the new law. The statute, slated to take effect on June 7, would be held in abeyance if referendum proponents succeed in placing it on the November ballot.

"Much hangs in the balance over the next few months. This is a time for people of faith to work together," Gary Randall, president of the Faith & Freedom Network, said in an appeal to supporters. He added in another statement: "This is a dark day for people of faith and those who honor natural, traditional marriage. It is a tipping point for the state."

A separate initiative proposal to define marriage as occurring between one man and one woman is also pending before a judge in Thurston County, and could also make its way to the ballot. "Right now, the condition of marriage is an unmitigated disaster and needs a lot of reform, but we need to begin that reform with an accurate definition," the proponent of that measure, Stephen Pidgeon, said in an interview.

Opponents of the new law were scheduled to meet with presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who was traveling to Washington on Monday as part of his presidential campaign. Santorum was planning a public address later in Tacoma in which same-sex marriage opponents hoped he would discuss the new Washington law.

But Gregoire and other supporters of the measure expressed confidence that Washington voters, who backed domestic partnerships on a 53%-47% vote in a 2009 referendum, will support the new law as well.

"We know that it's going to be a hard campaign, and we're going to have to fight really hard to protect this victory, but we believe we can be victorious in November," Zach Silk, spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, told the Los Angeles Times.

Washington joins six other states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont -- plus the District of Columbia in legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples. An additional eight states, including California, provide same-sex couples with access to state benefits and responsibilities offered married couples, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The New Jersey state Senate passed a same-sex marriage bill on Monday, but the ultimate outcome in that state was expected to be much different. Although the Assembly is expected to approve the measure, Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill should it reach his desk.

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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, center, signs the state's new law legalizing same-sex marriage. State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a proponent of the legislation, is shown at left. Credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

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