Hours after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage, couples officially began receiving state licenses as Washington became the latest state to allow members of the same sex to marry.
King County opened the doors to its auditor's office in Seattle just after midnight to start distributing marriage licenses to the hundreds of people who had lined up. By 6 a.m., 279 licenses had been issued.
“We knew it was going to happen, but it's still surreal,” Amanda Dollente told the Associated Press. She and her partner, Kelly Middleton, began standing in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Among the first to take out a license was well-known sex columnist Dan Savage and his partner, who were already married. Savage, who with his partner co-founded the It Gets Better project for LGBT youth, was the host of an election night party at a popular concert venue and has been an outspoken advocate of the law.
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday. Same-sex couples who were married in another state will not have to marry again since their out-of-state marriage became valid when the law went into effect.
Washington was one of three states, along with Maine and Maryland, to approve same-sex marriage in the November elections.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed the proclamation confirming that his state’s residents approved the ballot question. That allows the counties to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately, though they can wait until the law officially goes into effect Jan. 1. Marriages will begin in the new year.
"We still face tremendous challenges as a nation, but it is my sincere hope that we can come together to meet those challenges with greater respect for the dignity of every individual," he stated.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage certified his state’s election results on Nov. 29; the law will go into effect 30 days later, Dec. 29.
The three states join six other states, New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia that previously enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
The latest three states are the first to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, signaling a political shift in how the once-taboo topic has become an accepted part of the political discourse.
By a slight edge, U.S. voters said they now support same-sex marriage, a reversal from just four years ago, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week.
The poll found 48% backed same-sex marriage while 46% opposed it, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. While that is almost an evenly divided electorate, it is a sharp shift from 2008 when a Quinnipiac survey found 55% were against same-sex marriage while 36% were in favor.
“It seems pretty clear that attitudes toward same-sex marriage in American society are changing rapidly,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute said. “While the country remains split on the issue, supporters have come pretty far in the last four years.”
Surrounded by couples and community leaders, Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed on Wednesday certified the election results of Referendum 74, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage.
Referendum 74 had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. Nearly 54% voted to approve the law that was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the referendum.
“For the past 20 years we’ve been saying just one more step. Just one more fight. Just one more law. But now we can stop saying, 'just one more.' This is it. We are here. We did it,” Gregoire said.
“I thank the couples joining us here today who have waited far too long for this moment,” Gregoire said. “It’s been one long engagement. Thanks for waiting! You represent who we are as a state, young and old, public servants, parents, volunteers, and families."
"You are the ones that will show our next generation that yes, it does get better. That we are all in this together. And that there is no more important thing than love.”
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