By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Gay and lesbian couples secured the legal right to marry in Washington today 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 about noon, igniting an explosion of applause and cheers from supporters packed into the state reception room to witness the historic moment.
The crowd chanted “Thank you, thank you, thank you” before Gregoire was introduced.
With the signing, Washington becomes the seventh state to let same-sex couples wed. Iowa, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut and the District of Columbia now allow and recognize the nuptials of same-sex couples.
It will take effect June 7. However, opponents intend to make a run at repealing it with a referendum on the November ballot.
As soon as this afternoon, opponents can file the paperwork and pay the $5 fee to get the process started. If they turn in signatures of roughly 120,000 registered voters by June 6, the new law will be put on hold pending a vote.
“If asked – if asked – the voters of the state of Washington will say yes to marriage equality,” Gregoire said. “Washingtonians will say yes, because a family is a family.”
Gay marriage supporters are mobilizing for the fight. Their coalition, Washington United for Marriage, had raised nearly $250,000 in January, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Today in Washington, same-sex couples may register as domestic partners and are accorded nearly all the rights and privileges granted married heterosexual couples under state law. Most of this was accomplished with the “everything but marriage” law voters upheld in 2009.
This new law erases what supporters deemed a final vestige of discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.
It will redefine marriage to be a civil contract between two people, regardless of their gender, enabling couples of the same sex to marry if both people are at least 18 years old.
Under the law, same-sex couples now registered with the state as domestic partnerships will become married on June 30, 2014, unless the couple marries or dissolves their partnership before then.
And, the law says religious leaders cannot be sued for refusing to conduct marriages of same-sex couples. Similarly, churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions including colleges can refuse to let gay couples use their facilities for ceremonies and celebrations without fear of being sued.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org