Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Monday legislation that would enable same-sex couples to marry as advocates prepare for a possible fight over the measure at the ballot.
“I’m proud that our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal,” Gregoire said in her remarks. “They will be equal in the great state of Washington.”
Gregoire signed the legislation surrounded by LGBT advocates, including gay State Rep. Jamie Pedersen and gay State Sen. Ed Murray, champions of the legislation who introduced the governor at the ceremony.
After signing the bill, Gregoire exclaimed, “It is signed!”
Prior to the signing, the governor recalled stories by gay Washington residents who benefit after the bill was signed into law, including a letter she received from a 16-year-old girl.
“She had considered suicide,” Gregoire said, “but now with the conversation in the state with this marriage equality, it would make her stronger, it would allow her … to dream of the day that she would not have to get on bended knee and say, ‘Will you civil union me?’ but she will get on her knee and she will say, ‘Will you marry me?'”
Murray said during his remarks, “My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow!” Prior to signing the legislation, the audience at the ceremony chanted “Gre-goire! Gre-goire!” Later during the event, they chanted, “Thank-you! Thank-you!”
Gregoire asserted during her remarks that the legislation enables gay couples to obtain marriage licenses while allowing churches and religious organizations to opt out of recognizing these unions. Repeatedly throughout the remarks, Gregoire thanked the legislature for approving and conducting a civil, respectful debate on the issue.
The governor signed the measure after the Democratic-controlled legislature sent it to her desk. The State House approved the legislation last week by a vote of 55-43, while the State Senate approved the bill on Feb. 1 by a vote of 28-21.
Gregoire’s signature makes Washington the seventh state in the country where same-sex marriage is legal. The other states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Same-sex couples are also able to wed in D.C.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Gregoire for signing legislation that “puts Washington on the road to fairness for all families.”
“While those opposed to marriage for gay and lesbian couples will no doubt try to undo this progress, I am confident that equality will prevail in Washington,” Solmonese said.
In a statement, HRC touted its work in the effort to legalize marriage equality in Washington State. Among its contributions are founding the Washington United for Marriage coalition, providing field expertise and recruiting business support.
But LGBT advocates aren’t out of the woods yet. Anti-gay forces have the opportunity to bring the measure to the ballot in November if they submit the necessary number of signatures — 120,577 — to the Washington Secretary of State’s office by June 6.
A referendum on the marriage law would be similar to what happened with the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry in 2009, which came to the ballot as a measure known as Referendum 71. Voters approved the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry by a vote of 53 percent.
Gregoire expressed confidence during her remarks that pro-LGBT forces would win in November if marriage should come to the ballot.
“If asked the voters of the state of Washington will say ‘yes’ to marriage equality in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said. “Washingtonians will say ‘yes’ because a family is a family all facing the same challenges. Can we keep a roof over our heads? Can we keep our jobs? Can we provide for children’s health and safety, education and happiness? I believe our Washingtonians will say because it’s time for us to stand up for our sons, our daughters, our brother, our sisters, our moms, our dads, our friends and the couple down the road.”
If same-sex marriage opponents don’t bring the necessary number of signatures to the ballot by the deadline, the law will go into effect June 7. If they bring in enough signatures, but an insufficient number are deemed valid, the law would go into effect after the failure to certify.