On February 8, 2012, the Washington State Senate passed a bill that legalized same-sex marriage. The Senate passed the bill 28-21, with four Republican Senators crossing party lines in the vote. The bill was signed in to law by Governor Christine Gregoire.
Opponents of the same-sex marriage law must submit 120,577 signatures by June 6, 2012 in order to prevent the law from taking effect. If they are successful in their petition, the decision will be put to the Washington State voters in November. If they fail to obtain enough signatures, then the law will take effect in June, allowing same-sex couples to enter into marriages that provide the same rights and protections as opposite-sex unions. Under the law, churches and religious groups are allowed to deny same-sex couples to have marriage ceremonies performed within their facilities.
If the law is not successfully challenged, the 9300 couples who have entered into same-sex domestic partnerships would have two years to either become officially married or dissolve their domestic partnerships legally. Couples that fail to dissolve their partnerships would be automatically declared married as of June 30, 2014.
History of Gay Marriage Legislation in Washington State
The issue of same-sex marriage entered the national discourse in a powerful manner with the passage of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. This Act, signed into law in 1998, banned gay marriage. It officially defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and provided that no state would be required to recognize same-sex marriage.
The Washington Supreme Court found that the Defense of Marriage Act's ban on gay marriage was constitutional according to the state constitution, but the passage of domestic partnership laws quickly accelerated. In 2007, the Washington legislature created limited domestic partnerships that allowed same-sex couples some of the same rights that married couples enjoyed. Gregoire subsequently signed into law bills that increased rights in 2008 and 2009. The 2009 law, often called the "everything but marriage" law, offered same-sex couples the full rights and protections that marriage allows. The only privilege excluded from the law was the legal married status. This legislation was signed into law on May 18, 2009. However, a referendum was filed that required the citizens of Washington to vote on the measure. Voters upheld the law, the first time in United States history that a state's citizens voted to uphold to expand LGBT relationship rights. In 2011, Gregoire signed into law a bill that allowed Washington State to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages within the state.
Same-Sex Marriage in the United States
Currently, six states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. Washington and Maryland same-sex marriage laws are pending. If they are not successfully challenged by opponents, they will become law by November 2012. Eleven other states have created civil unions that offer at least some of the same rights and protections to same-sex partners that are offered by legal marriage.