OLYMPIA, Wash. Surrounded by same-sex marriage supporters chanting Thank you and Four more years, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill Monday that would grant gay and lesbian couples the right to legally marry in Washington state.
The House passed the bill on a 55-43 vote last Wednesday, a week after the Senate approved it.
The law takes effect June 7, but opponents have promised to fight back with a ballot measure that would allow voters to overturn it.
If opponents gather enough signatures to take their fight to the ballot, the law is put on hold pending the outcome of a November election. They must turn in more than 120,000 signatures by June 6 to challenge the proposed law. An anti-gay marriage initiative has also been filed. To qualify, 241,153 signatures must be submitted by July 6.
Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and more than a dozen other states have provisions, ranging from domestic partnerships to gay marriage, supporting same-sex couples.
Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers in New Jersey are expected to vote on gay marriage next week, and Maine could see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot.
Proposed amendments to ban gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina in May and in Minnesota in November.
California's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, was rejected by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit on Tuesday. The panel gave gay-marriage opponents time to appeal before allowing same-sex weddings to resume. The judges also said the decision only applies to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine western states.
Washington state's momentum for same-sex marriage has been building and the debate has changed significantly since 1998, when lawmakers passed Washington's ban on gay marriage. The constitutionality of that law ultimately was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2006. But earlier that year, a gay civil rights measure passed after nearly 30 years of failure, signaling a change in the Legislature.
The quick progression of domestic partnership laws in the state came soon after, with a domestic partnership law in 2007. An everything but marriage expansion was later upheld by voters years later.
In October, a University of Washington poll found that an increasing number of people in the state support same-sex marriage. About 43 percent of respondents said they support gay marriage, up from 30 percent in the same poll five years earlier. Another 22 percent said they support giving identical rights to gay couples, without calling the unions marriage.
If a challenge to gay marriage law was on the ballot, 55 percent said they would vote to uphold the law. And 38 percent said they would vote to reject a gay marriage law.
Same-sex marriage also has the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft, Nike and Starbucks.
In Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood on Wednesday, 27-year-old Nicolle Edwards said that the possibility of a referendum to the soon-to-be new law was a concern, but that she was happy her lawmakers approved gay marriage.
Any step in the direction of equal rights is something to celebrate, said Edwards, who is gay.