OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she wants Washington to become the seventh state in the nation to make gay marriage legal.

She said at a news conference she'll introduce the bill that, if passed by the state Legislature, would allow same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Washington state.

It is time. It's the right thing to do and I will introduce the bill to make it happen, said Gregoire. Once again, the call for equality is sweeping through our nation and this time it's for our gay and lesbian couples.

Gregoire said the law would not require churches or other religious institutions to perform gay marriage ceremonies.

Last November, a coalition called Washington United for Marriage announced it would lobby the Legislature to approve a gay marriage this year. In 2009 the Legislature passed, and voters later upheld, a bill that greatly expanded the rights of same-sex domestic partners. That measure was known as the everything but marriage bill. Nearly 19,000 people in Washington state are registered as domestic partners.

I think (Gregoire s) support certainly helps, but we still have the struggle and we don t have the votes yet, but I think we re going to get them this year, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is openly gay.

Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Redmond s Antioch Bible Church, a long-time gay marriage opponent, said he believes Gregoire s endorsement is payback to the gay community who helped get her elected.

I think she is going to do this because she has to. I think that she s made promises to the community and the gay community to help her get into office in the first place, said Hutcherson.

Gregoire said the decision came from her heart.

The state cannot be in the business of discrimination, said Gregoire. It was that. It was my children. It was the children of friends. It was friends. It was leaders that, I finally said to myself It s time to do the right thing. And let me just tell you, I feel so much better today than I have for the last seven years.

Murray and Hutcherson take opposing viewpoints over the religious aspects of legalizing gay marriage.

I am a believer in the Bible. I am a pastor. I m a man of the cloth, any way you want to say it. The Bible says that when something is wrong, you stand up against it and I can t think of anything that the Bible says is wrong as being good for society if we go against it. Said Hutcherson.

First of all, this legislation will not redefine marriage for heterosexual couples and, second, it will not infringe on religious freedoms, said Murray

Murray, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he believes the Legislature can handle the business of dealing with the state s budget crisis and pass gay marriage legislation, but admits it will be a tough battle.

I think Washingtonians really care about fairness and equality and I think that this is something the Legislature can do in tough economic times that doesn t cost anything, said Rod Hearne of Equal Rights Washington.

Gay marriage is now legal in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Oregon gay rights leaders announced last November that they would not pursue a same-sex ballot measure, citing the cost of a campaign in down economic times.

More: Oregon gay marriage plans dropped

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