With about half of the expected ballots counted Tuesday night, Referendum 74 was passing with 52 percent of the vote.
The measure asked voters to approve or reject Washington state's new law legalizing same-sex marriage. That law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year, but it's been on hold pending the election's outcome.
About $13.6 million was spent on Washington state's campaign, with the bulk of it coming from gay marriage supporters.
Chuck Whitfield of Monroe, a volunteer coordinator in Snohomish County for Preserve Marriage Washington, remained optimistic in spite of trailing.
"We felt it would be close. When all the numbers are in I feel Referendum 74 will be rejected," he said. "It will be a statement that throughout Washington traditional marriage should not be redefined."
"Thank god for King County," said Kevin McCollum-Blair of Everett. He and his partner, Johnny McCollum-Blair, were among the first in the state to register as a domestic partnership in 2007.
"It's just an exciting night right now," he said. "The thought that at least in our state we will be equal is amazing."
About $13.6 million has been spent on Washington state's campaign so far, with the bulk of it spent by gay marriage supporters. Washington United for Marriage has far outraised its opponents, bringing in more than $12 million compared to the $2.7 million raised by Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes the law.
The road to gay marriage in Washington state began several years ago. A year after the state's gay marriage ban was upheld by the state Supreme Court, the state's first domestic partnership law passed in 2007, granting couples about two dozen rights, including hospital visitation and inheritance rights when there is no will. It was expanded a year later, and then again in 2009, when lawmakers completed the package with the so-called "everything but marriage" bill that was ultimately upheld by voters later that same year.
This year, lawmakers passed the law allowing gay marriage and Gregoire signed it in February. Preserve Marriage gathered enough signatures for a referendum, and the law never took effect, instead remaining on hold pending Tuesday's vote. If voters uphold the law, gay couples could start picking up their marriage certificate and license from county auditor offices on Dec. 6, a day after the election is certified. However, because Washington state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest the certificate could be signed, making the marriage valid, is Dec. 9.
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and doesn't subject them to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
Herald Writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.
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