By RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire handed gay rights advocates a major victory Monday, signing into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Gregoire signed the bill surrounded by gay rights supporters. "I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal," she said.
It's a historic moment for the state, but same-sex couples can't walk down the aisle just yet.
The law takes effect June 7, but opponents on multiple fronts already are preparing to fight.
Opponents filed Referendum 73 Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned.
Gay marriage supporters said that while they are ready for a campaign battle, they are allowing themselves to celebrate first.
"You have to relish this moment," said 31-year-old Bret Tiderman of Seattle.
The state reception room at the Capitol was packed with hundreds of gay rights supporters and at least 40 lawmakers from the House and Senate to watch Gregoire sign the bill.
Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years, told the cheering crowd: "My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow. No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us."
The House passed the bill on a 55-43 vote last Wednesday. The Senate approved the week before.
As the Democratic governor signed the legislation Monday, a man shouted, "Do not betray Christ!" However, his voice was overwhelmed by gay-marriage supporters who cheered and spoke loudly during his outburst.
Bob Struble, 68, of Bremerton, was removed from the room and said he was given a warning by security. Struble said he believes the state will halt gay marriage in a public vote.
"We'll be doing everything we can to overturn this unfortunate law," Struble said.
Audrey Daye, of Olympia, cried as she watched Gregoire sign the bill into law. Daye, who grew up with two moms, brought her 7-year-old son, Orin, with her to watch the bill signing.
"I am so proud that our state is on the right side of history," she said.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who opposes gay marriage, was in town speaking with conservative voters. Santorum also met with Republican lawmakers at the Capitol Monday afternoon.
Santorum said he encouraged gay-marriage opponents "to continue the fight."
"There are ebbs and flows in every battle, and this is not the final word," he said.
Gregoire's signature comes nearly a week after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave gay marriage opponents time to appeal the 2-1 decision against Proposition 8 before ordering the state to allow same-sex weddings to resume. The judges also said the decision only applies to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine Western states.
Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009 passed an "everything but marriage" expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.
The coalition of opponents that filed Monday's referendum is called "Preserve Marriage Washington."
"I think in the end, people are going to preserve marriage," said Joe Fuiten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell who is involved in the referendum effort.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.
Christopher Plante, a regional coordinator from NOM, attended the referendum filing and said that his group will be offering technical assistance to Preserve Marriage Washington, helping them gather signatures and raise money. He said that the campaign is likely to be expensive, estimating that between $2 million and $6 million could be spent on each side of the campaign.
Separately, an anti-gay marriage initiative was filed at the beginning of the session, but the language is still being worked out so no signatures have been collected yet. An initiative alone would not pause the law.
A campaign has already formed to fight any challenge to the new law. "Washington United for Marriage," a coalition of gay marriage supporters, formed in November to lobby the Legislature to pass the measure and to run a campaign against any referendum challenging it.
Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.
Same-sex marriage also has the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp., Nike Inc. and Starbucks Corp.
The New Jersey Senate advanced a gay marriage bill Monday, and a vote is expected in the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday. Gov. Chris Christie, who is pushing for a public vote on the issue, says he'll veto the bill if it comes to his desk.
Legislative committees in Maryland heard testimony on gay marriage last week, and Maine could see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot.
Proposed amendments to ban gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina in May and in Minnesota in November.
The gay marriage bill is Senate Bill 6239.
Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly . Associated Press writer Mike Baker contributed to this report.
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