Washington state gays licensed to wed

Hundreds of same-sex couples across Washington state collected licences as a voter-approved law legalising gay marriage took effect.

King County, the state’s biggest, opened the doors to its auditor’s office in Seattle just after midnight yesterday to start distributing marriage licences. But hundreds had lined up hours earlier, with a queue snaking around the building on a chilly December night. By the afternoon, about 450 licences had been issued.

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 the union.

Washington governor Chris Gregoire and secretary of state Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday afternoon and the law took effect at 12.01am yesterday.

The referendum had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalising same-sex marriage passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Mr Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54% of voters approved the measure.

Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.

“We waited a long time. We’ve been together 35 years, never thinking we’d get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can’t hardly stand it,” said 85-year-old Pete-e Petersen, who with her partner, Jane Abbott Lighty, 77, were the first to get a licence in Seattle.

After meeting 35 years ago on a blind date in Sacramento, the couple will get married on Sunday.

The law does not require religious organisations or churches to perform marriages and nor subject churches to penalties if they do not marry gay or lesbian couples.

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