Washington state makes 7: Governor signs gay marriage law

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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."

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9/11 anniversary: Obamas honor sacrifice of Flight 93

Bell

President Obama placed a wreath at the memorial for those who died in Shanksville, Pa., where one of the four jets hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed after passengers and crew fought fought back and prevented it from reaching its target in the nation’s capital.

For the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, the ceremony Sunday was the second stop on a day of mourning, commemoration and echoes of past unity in a crisis. From Pennsylvania, the first couple was headed to a ceremony at the Pentagon, the third terror memorial site, before finishing at the Concert for Hope at the Kennedy Center.

The president, who read from Psalm 46 at his first stop, the site of the World Trade Center, will deliver remarks Sunday night at the Kennedy Center. He did not publicly speak in Pennsylvania and was not scheduled to speak at the Pentagon ceremony, the second of the day there.

Full coverage: A nation remembers

In Pennsylvania the Obamas visited the Wall of Names, where each of 40 marble slabs is inscribed with the name of a victim of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

The president and first lady placed a wreath of white flowers in front of the wall, bowing their heads in silence for a moment. When they walked to the crowd to shake hands, the mood shifted. Some broke out in a chant of “U-S-A!”  One man yelled, “Thank you for getting Bin Laden!”

The Obamas spent roughly an hour at the site, having photos taken, shaking hands and talking with family members of victims.

But even on a day of unity and remembrance, politics was not too far off. As the president approached, Rosemary Archer, a cashier at Wal-Mart from Centerville, Pa., asked the president if her Social Security payment was safe.

“It’s going to be there. You don’t have to worry about it,” the president said.

On that late summer day a decade ago, 19 hijackers associated with Al Qaeda seized four passenger jets. Two crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, whose two iconic towers collapsed within hours. One jet was crashed into the Pentagon.

The fourth, Flight 93, fell into a field near Shanksville after the passengers and crew fought to recapture the plane from the hijackers. The plane went down 20 minutes by air from Washington, where the hijackers are believed to have been planning to hit the Capitol or the White House.

On Saturday a new national memorial at the crash site was dedicated by Vice President Joe Biden and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The ceremony on Sunday was quieter and more personal. Bells rang out as tearful families members read the names of dead. The crowd paused in silence at 10:03 a.m. Eastern time -- the moment of the crash. A children’s choir sang.

Visitors sat in folding chairs and on blankets in the field near the memorial, waving flags and wearing T-shirts, carrying messages of support or photos of the dead. The field was a reclaimed coal mine site when the plane crashed. It is has been restored to a meadow of orange and white wildflowers and a wetland.

The point of impact -- called the sacred ground -- is marked by a heaping rock adorned with flowers. Some unidentified remains will be buried at the spot on Monday.

"Nothing frightens me more than the phrase, 'Time heals all things,' " Gordon Felt, whose brother died in the crash, told the crowd.

“Do we as individuals or as a community truly want to be fully healed if means complete elimination of the pain that links us to all we lost? Do we want our memories eroded by the passage of time? … Let us not allow time to heal all our pain, let us never forget,” he said.

In his remarks, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation’s first Homeland Security secretary, addressed the Flight 93 passengers.

“Tragedies teach us, they do not stop us,” he said. “We pledge to you that we will ensure that future generations know your names and your remarkable story,” he said.

RELATED:

Obama arrives in N.Y. on first stop of 9/11 pilgrimage

Families, dignitaries mourn at World Trade Center in N.Y.

9/11 anniversary: Nearly 1,000 mourn terror deaths at Pentagon

-- Kathleen B. Hennessey and Michael Muskal

Photo: A bell is rung during the reading of the names of passengers and crew who died on United Airlines Flight 93. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press


On 9/11 anniversary, a solemn Shanksville to take center stage

Shanksville

In the 10 years since tragedy fell from the sky and landed in its backyard, the tiny town of Shanksville, Pa., has come to embrace its role in history.

United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field just outside of this town of fewer than 300 people in western Pennsylvania. The crash site, a reclaimed mine, is just a few miles from the town center, which is little more than a cluster of homes, churches, Ida’s country store and a sign that welcomes visitors to "Shanksville, a friendly little town."

PHOTOS: A nation mourns the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

On this anniversary weekend, Shanksville aimed to live up to its billing. Tiny flags lined the curbs, as if awaiting a parade. Churches posted messages of remembrance. "Remember Flight 93" signs hung from lamp posts and porches.

"We went from being a town nobody even knew ... to a place known around the nation," said Ben Eisler, a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter. Like many in town, Eisler came out to the new Flight 93 memorial on Sunday to commemorate the day. President Obama was slated to lay a wreath here later in the day.

Eisler said he’s been to the site every year since the crash, which took 44 lives. His mom was an "ambassador" -- one of many local volunteers who flocked to the site to assist victims' families and other visitors.
 
The town has gotten used to helping outsiders find their way. More than a million people have visited the site in the last decade. The town’s firehouse holds a musem of sorts, including a collection of patches traded with firefighters visiting from across the country. Outside the firehouse is an iron cross reclaimed from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

A few miles away, a local chapel built a smaller memorial its in back garden, giving tourist a place of quiet reflection while the $60-million memorial was under construction at the site of the crash. The hijackers are believed to have been planning to crash the plane in Washington, D.C., either at the Capitol or the White House. But the plane went down in the Pennsylvania field after passengers banded together and fought back.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the attention has become commonplace for Shanksville and the mountain towns around it. But longtime residents still remember a time when the area was known for coal mining, farming, hunting -- or not much at all.

"It’s just amazing that something of this magnitude happened in this little area," said Cathy Haer.

RELATED:

Sept. 11, 2001: A nation remembers

Photos: Disturbing images of the terrorist attacks

Families, dignitaries mourn at World Trade Center in New York City

Future 9/11 ceremonies in N.Y. might not include reading of victims' names

-- Kathleen Hennessey

Photo: A family member of one of the victims of the crash of United Flight 93 walks along a section of the national memorial in Shanksville, Pa. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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