Washington voters approve same-sex marriage

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Voters in Washington have approved same-sex marriage, making it the third state in the nation to legalize gay marriage in Tuesday’s general elections. Voters in Maine and Maryland also approved it.

With nearly 2.5 million votes counted in Washington state as of 10:29 p.m. Thursday, the same-sex measure was winning approval by more than 123,000 votes, ensuring its passage. The vote was 1,269,917 yes votes and 1,146,439 no votes.

Hours earlier Thusday, the head of the opposition group Preserve Marriage Washington conceded defeat, saying that it was clear Referendum 74, the same-sex measure, would be approved.

In a statement, group chairman Joseph Backholm said, “With added results showing that we have not closed the gap, it now appears clear that Referendum 74 will be narrowly approved. We are disappointed in losing a tough election battle on marriage by a narrow margin. But while we are disappointed, we are not defeated.”

Backholm said the state’s “deep blue” leanings, its largely secular populace and the Seattle Times “taking the unprecendented step of not just endorsing the referendum, but of actively campaign for its approval,” all contributed to making his organization’s campaign more difficult.

Referendum 74 supporters declared victory Wednesday and planned to gather at the Washington United for Marriage headquarters on Capitol Hill to celebrate the news.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said, “Washington has made history and I couldn’t be prouder. Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law. I am proud that our LGBT families will no longer be treated as separate but equal, they will be equal.

“This is a day that historians will look back on as a turning point for equality. It is a day I will look back on as Washington state leading the nation. And it is a day that I will carry with me forever.”

Washington state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a champion of gay marriage legislation, said, “For me personally, and for my partner of 21 years, Michael, this is a deeply emotional moment.  Like thousands of couples across this state, we now have the freedom to marry.”

Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk issued the following statement Thursday: “This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day.

“We have always understood that there are good people on the other side of this issue.  Yet, we remain confident that once people see how much marriage matters to families, they will realize that the love and commitment that marriage embodies only strengthens families, neighborhoods and communities.”

Same-sex couples will be allowed to apply for marriage licenses on Dec. 6 — 30 days after the election and the day elections results must be certified under state law. The law requires all couples to wait three days after receiving their marriage license before they have a ceremony. Couples can obtain marriage licenses from any county — it does not need to be from the county where they reside.

Same-sex marriage measures were also on the ballot Tuesday in three other states — Maine, Maryland and Minnesota. Maine and Maryland voted to legalize same-sex marriage Tuesday night. Minnesota rejected a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Due to court rulings and legislative victories, same-sex marriage was legal in six states and the District of Columbia. With Tuesday’s elections, it is now legal in nine states and D.C.

The Washington Legislature in February approved a measure allowing same-sex marriage and it was signed into law by Gregoire. However, it was put on hold when Referendum 74 was put on the ballot to either reaffirm the decision or overturn it.

Roman Catholic leaders in the state urged a “no” vote on R-74 by their parishioners, but major corporations in the Seattle area, including Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and Nordstrom, supported the measure.

Two years ago, the Legislature approved the state’s so-called “Everything but Marriage” law that gave domestic partners many of the same civil rights as married couples.

Opponents of Referendum 74 say that should be enough. Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Cedar Park Church in Bothell argues that when voters are told “that gays have every right of marriage right now, and that we don’t need to change marriage in order for gays to be treated fairly, when you phrase it in that way, support for gay marriage drops to 35%.”

It was much the same situation in Washington as in Maryland, where the same-sex marriage law was narrowly approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed in March by the state’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley. But the law was put off when opponents gathered sufficient signatures to toss the issue to a voter referendum.

The issue in Minnesota was whether to reaffirm the state’s existing ban on same-sex marriage through an amendment in the State Constitution. Polls showed a tight contest there.

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