OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Wednesday a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, which now joins several other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
"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."
The law takes effect today, 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, planned to open at 12:01 a.m. today to issue marriage licenses.
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.
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.
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.
Maryland's law takes effect Jan. 1, but couples can start picking up marriage licenses today, as long as the license has an effective date of Jan. 1. Maine's law takes effect Dec. 29, and there's no waiting period.