OLYMPIA — Gay and lesbian couples secured the legal right to marry in Washington on Monday, but whether any weddings will occur is a question voters will likely answer later this year.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a controversial gay marriage bill into law a few minutes after noon, igniting an explosion of cheers from supporters packed into the state reception room to witness the historic moment.
“We are here today to make history in this great state,” she said. “It’s a day that historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights in this state, a day when we did what was right, we did what was just and we did what was fair.”
Four hours later, opponents arrived at the Secretary of State’s Office, where a Lynnwood man paid a $5 fee and filed paperwork for a referendum to repeal it.
“We just believe that the public, on an issue like this, has the right to give input,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, before filing the referendum. “Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. It’s always been that way.”
The law is set to take effect June 7. But if foes turn in 120,577 valid signatures of registered voters by June 6, it will be put on hold pending a vote this fall on the measure that would appear on the ballot as Referendum 73.
With Gregoire’s signature on Substitute Senate Bill 6239, Washington joined Iowa, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut and the District of Columbia in allowing and recognizing the nuptials of same-sex couples.
It also marks the first time any Legislature has repealed a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, celebrating lawmakers said.
“My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who sponsored the bill. “No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us.”
When Gregoire arrived, the crowd chanted, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and later added, “Four more years, four more years.”
In a brief speech, the beaming governor expressed confidence voters will keep the law on the books because they know it’s not been a problem in the other states.
“Their experience shows us the sky-will-fall rhetoric is simply not true,” she said. “Washingtonians will say yes, because a family is a family.”
Monday marked the opening act of what will be an emotional and expensive drama playing out through November.
“It’ll be millions of dollars” for both sides, Backholm said.
“>National Organization for Marriage
“>National Organization for Marriageof Washington, D.C., considered the nation’s largest and most influential group working to support traditional marriage. The group is expected to be the largest source of funds for the coalition.
“We’re here to back up the efforts of the grassroots and make them successful,” said Christopher Plante, the organization’s regional coordinator. He estimated each side could spend between $2 million and $6 million in this campaign though he declined to say how much his group would contribute.
Gay marriage supporters began mobilizing for the fight last year. Their coalition, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=6239&year=2011
Q. When can petitions be signed to put the measure on the ballot?
A. In roughly three weeks. The Attorney General’s Office must write a title and summary of the measure to appear on the ballot and time allowed for challenges to be filed and resolved by Thurston County Superior Court.
Q. How many signatures of registered voters are required?
A. The bare minimum is 120,577 though the state Elections Division suggests turning in at least 150,000 in case there are invalid and duplicate signatures.
Q. What is the deadline for turning in signatures?
A. June 6.
Q. What happens to the gay-marriage law in the meantime?
A. It is put on hold if enough signatures are filed. Election officials will check to see if enough valid signatures are turned in. If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the law remains suspended until the results of the election are known and certified on Dec. 6.
Q: What if there are not enough valid signatures?
A: Then the law goes into effect right away.
Q. How long does the signature check take?
A. If sponsors submit enough extras, a random sample can be checked in about two weeks; a full check of every signature can take a month.
Q. Is there a “window” in which same-sex couples can marry?
Q. Referendums are confusing. How does one know how to vote?
A. The referendum places the text of the bill before them. A ”Yes” vote is to uphold the law and a ”No” vote wipes out the measure and it does not take effect.
Q. What is required for passage?
A. A simple majority.