* Opponents vow to repeal it at the polls
* Law would not take effect before June 7
(Updates with House vote, details and background)
By Nicole Neroulias
OLYMPIA, Wash., Feb 8 (Reuters) - A bill to legalize
gay marriage in Washington state won final legislative approval
on Wednesday in a vote that moved the state one step closer to
becoming the seventh to recognize same-sex nuptials.
Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat in her last term of
office, was expected to sign the bill into law early next week,
but opponents have vowed to seek its repeal at the polls in
The measure cleared the state House of Representatives
55-43, a week after it was passed by the state Senate and a day
after a federal appeals court declared California's
voter-approved gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
Democrats, accounting for the lion's share of support for
the bill, control both legislative bodies in the state capital
Olympia but enjoy a bigger majority in the 98-seat House.
Two Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting for the bill,
while two Democrats sided with 41 Republicans in opposition.
Senate passage last week came on a 28-21 vote.
Six other states already recognize same-sex marriage -- New
York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and
Iowa -- as does the District of Columbia.
Supporters are pushing similar statutes in Maryland and New
Jersey, and a referendum to legalize gay marriage in Maine has
qualified for the November ballot there.
Wednesday's debate grew emotional at times, with the bill's
chief House sponsor, Representative Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat
who has four young children with his gay companion of 10 years,
arguing that the state's domestic-partnership law falls short.
"I would like our four children to understand ... that their
daddy and their papa have made that lifelong commitment to each
other," he said. "Thousands of same-sex couples in our state
deserve the respect and protection from our government that only
marriage can convey."
Representative Jay Rodne, a Republican who said he was
guided by his Roman Catholic faith to oppose gay marriage, said
the measure was tantamount to "progressive re-engineering in its
most extreme and damaging form.
"This bill is about validation. This bill is about
acceptance ... . Marriage is not about self-actualization,
validation or acceptance," he said. "Marriage is about life."
But his Republican colleague, Glenn Anderson, spoke in favor
of the bill, referring to his gay brother and drawing a parallel
between Jim Crow racial segregation laws in Alabama, where he
grew up, and contemporary laws barring same-sex marriage.
The bill is to be formally delivered to Gregoire's desk by
the end of the week. She will then have five days to sign it,
not including Sunday. That timetable has led to speculation of
enactment coming next Tuesday, Valentine's Day.
But the law would not take effect before June 7, three
months after the conclusion of the legislative session.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said they would seek to
overturn the legislation via one of two ballot measures - a
referendum for repeal or an initiative defining marriage as the
exclusive domain of heterosexual couples.
The former would need 241,153 signatures of registered
voters by July 6 to secure a place on the November ballot. The
latter would need just half the number of signatures by June 6.
If a repeal referendum qualifies for the November ballot,
the gay marriage law would be suspended until the election and
certification of returns, meaning Dec. 6, before it is either
repealed or goes into effect.
But should gay marriage opponents pursue an initiative, gay
marriages could take place on June 7, regardless of
It was unclear whether gay weddings performed in the interim
would be nullified if an initiative restricting marriage to
male-female unions only were to pass in November.
There is precedent in California for handling such a
situation. California's Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in
2008, only for voters to approve a state constitutional
amendment banning same-sex matrimony six months later.
The state's high court later upheld the gay marriage ban,
known as Proposition 8, but ruled that 18,000 same-sex weddings
officiated between May and November 2008 were still legal.
A federal judge later ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, a
decision upheld on Tuesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Legal experts said that ruling, while narrowly tailored to
California, could ease the way for a successful court challenge
in Washington state should voters there overturn a gay marriage
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and
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