OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, which now joins several other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election on Wednesday afternoon, as they were joined by couples who plan to wed and community activists who worked on the campaign supporting gay marriage. The law doesn't take effect until Thursday, when gay and lesbian couples can start picking up their wedding certificates and licenses at county auditors' offices. King County, the state's largest and home to Seattle, and Thurston County, home to the state capital of Olympia, will open the earliest, at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, to start issuing marriage licenses.
In Seattle, Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line to wait for their license at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
"We knew it was going to happen, but it's still surreal," said Dollente, 29.
By 10 p.m., dozens of people had joined the queue and the mood was festive.
Volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of "Going to the Chapel."
Asked whether the middle-of-the-night marriage license roll-out was necessary, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, "People who have been waiting all these years to have their rights recognized should not have to wait one minute longer."
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday. Same-sex couples who previously were married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington state. Their marriages will be valid here as soon as the law takes effect.
"This is a very important and historic day in the great state of Washington," Gregoire said before signing the measure that officially certified the election results. "For many years now we've said one more step, one more step. And this is our last step for marriage equality in the state of Washington."
Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Referendum 74 in Washington state had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54 percent of voters approved the measure.
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
Heather Kawamoto and Kay Lancaster of Tacoma attended the signing event Wednesday afternoon with their 9-year-old daughter, Kayleigh Kawamoto.
Kawamoto and Lancaster have been together more than 14 years, and domestic partners since 2007, and both said they can't wait to finally pick up their marriage license as soon as the Pierce County auditor's office opens at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. They will marry in a small ceremony on Sunday in Tacoma.