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US state becomes the seventh to legalise same-sex marriage

However opponents of the new law immediately filed legal papers to challenge it, making it likely that a vote will have to be held on the issue.

Politicians at the signing of the law yesterday in Olympia, Washington.
Politicians at the signing of the law yesterday in Olympia, Washington.
Image: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

THE GOVERNOR OF Washington state has signed into law a measure that makes the state the seventh in America to legslise same sex marriage.

However opponents almost immediately filed a referendum to challenge the new law, meaning voters will likely have the final say.

Governor Chris Gregoire signed the bill yesterday saying it was “a day historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights, a day when we did what was right, we did what was just, and we did what was fair”.

The law takes effect from June 7, but opponents on multiple fronts already are preparing to fight.

A group called Preserve Marriage Washington filed for a referendum on Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures needed by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned.

“I think in the end, people are going to preserve marriage,” said Joe Fuiten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell who is involved in the referendum effort.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.

A campaign has already formed to fight any challenge to the new law. “Washington United for Marriage,” a coalition of gay marriage supporters, formed in November to lobby the Legislature to pass the measure and to run a campaign against any referendum challenging it.

Gay marriage supporters said that while they are ready for a campaign battle, they are allowing themselves to celebrate first.

“You have to relish this moment,” said 31-year-old Bret Tiderman of Seattle, who attended Monday’s bill signing.

The state reception room at the Capitol was packed with hundreds of gay rights supporters and at least 40 lawmakers from the House and Senate to watch Gregoire sign the bill Monday. Gregoire was greeted with loud cheers.

“No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us,” Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years, told the cheering crowd.

Background

Gregoire’s signature comes nearly a week after a federal appeals court declared California’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave gay marriage opponents time to appeal the 2-1 decision against Proposition 8 before ordering the state to allow 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 has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009 passed an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Same-sex marriage also has the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp., Nike Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

The New Jersey Senate advanced a gay marriage bill Monday, and a vote is expected in the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday. Gov. Chris Christie, who is pushing for a public vote on the issue, says he’ll veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Legislative committees in Maryland heard testimony on gay marriage last 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.

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Associated Press

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