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UPDATE: Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday signed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, putting the state on track to become the seventh in the nation where gays and lesbians can legally wed.
While gay-rights advocates and their like-minded allies celebrated the move, it doesn't mean that same-sex couples in the Evergreen State will be able to walk down the aisle right away. The new law doesn't go into effect until June 7, and its opponents still have one final chance to derail it. If they can collect roughly 120,000 signatures by June 6, they can delay enactment and force the state to hold a public referendum on the issue.
Currently, gays and lesbians can marry in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. A recent federal appeals court ruling in California overturned the ban on same-sex marriage there. While the ruling technically made gay marriage in California legal again, same-sex couples will not be allowed to wed while the appeals process continues, something that will likely last for at least the next several months.
New Jersey, meanwhile, is shaping up to be the next battleground in the gay-marriage movement. The state's Senate on Monday signed off on a bill that would allow same-sex couples to wed, the Associated Press reports. A similar effort failed in the same chamber two years ago, but that doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing this time around. The new legislation still needs to pass the state assembly and, if successful there, overcome a promised veto from Gov. Chris Christie.
Thursday, Feb. 9: Washington moved one more step closer on Wednesday to becoming the next state to allow gays and lesbians to wed.
The state House signed off on the measure, 55 to 43, one week after the bill cleared the state's more conservative Senate. The move clears the way for Gov. Christine Gregoire to sign the legislation into law, something she has indicated could happen as soon as next week.
The bill will make Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. But it is likely to face a challenge from those who oppose it: If opponents can collect 120,577 signatures by June 6, then the measure goes to a public referendum before being enacted. If they can't collect the signatures, the law goes into effect this summer. If they can, Washington same-sex couples will have to wait until after November to see if they can marry in the state or not.
The New York Times has more on the story.
Thursday, Feb. 2: A bill in Washington state that would legalize same-sex marriage cleared what was seen as its biggest legislative hurdle late Wednesday night, passing in the state Senate by seven votes, 28-21.
With both the state House and Gov. Christine Gregoire publicly backing the measure, it should have no trouble becoming law in the state. But after that, it'll face one more legal challenge, the Associated Press reports.
Although a referendum amendment didn't make it into the bill, opponents will have until June 6 to collect 120,577 signatures to force a vote on the November ballot. If they can't do that, couples will be able to marry this summer. If they're successful, same-sex couples will have to wait and see what happens in November, the AP notes.
Although Washington already offers domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Ed Murray, argued for the importance of including same-sex couples under the umbrella of marriage, saying “marriage is how society says you are a family.” He also stated his intention to marry his longtime partner in the state: “Regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation [to the wedding] will be in the mail,” he said just before the vote.
The bill contains several protections for religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage, including one similar to that in the New York law which affirms that religious groups aren't required to marry or open their facilities to marrying same-sex couples, as the New York Times explains. Despite this, some opponents of the bill have expressed fears that they may now be the targets of discrimination. Sen. Dan Swecker, who voted against the bill, said he was "extremely concerned" that the bill doesn't do enough to prevent a "hostile environment for those of us who believe in traditional marriage."
The Roman Catholic Church and the National Organization for Marriage have already vowed to help oppose the bill, citing their faith as motivation.
A turning point for the bill's prospects in the senate came when Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen announced Monday that she would support the bill, giving it the number of votes it'd need to pass. Describing herself as having "strong Christian beliefs," her statement is an interesting articulation of the Christian argument for supporting same-sex marriage legislation: "For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day. “But this issue isn’t about just what I believe," she said. Her full statement is here.
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.