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Originally published January 4, 2012 at 4:32 PM | Page modified February 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM

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Gov. Gregoire's support for gay marriage brings welcome momentum

Washington state lawmakers should legalize same-sex marriage. Gov. Chris Gregoire's announcement Wednesday that she would submit and support such legislation is welcome.

Seattle Times Editorial

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AFTER years of giving gays and lesbians quotients of fairness and equality, Washington lawmakers should go one dramatic step further and legalize same-sex marriage.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's decision to submit and back such legislation provides enormous momentum.

State lawmakers rightly are consumed this year with necessary reforms and spending cuts required by yet another sizable budget shortfall. But giving same-sex couples the full legal rights and benefits of marriage does not cost much. Besides, legislators are born multitaskers.

It is time for lawmakers to quit working around the edges and ensure that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights and recognition of their loving relationships and families as everyone else.

"Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families — making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment," Gregoire said Wednesday.

"For all couples, a state marriage license is very important," she added. "It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children, if any, are protected by well-established civil law."

When people discuss the fact that six states already allow same-sex marriage, the follow-up question is: Why is Washington not one of them?

Indeed, Washington should be a leader in pressing for change. Our state should join New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia in treating same-sex couples equitably.

Washington is a live-and-let-live kind of place. Our frontier heritage and egalitarian approach to politics has long made this a state that respects other peoples' rights and privacy.

The political calculus says a vote might be successful in the state House but support would be a few votes short in the Senate. That is not insurmountable. The governor, who is not seeking re-election, can use her power of persuasion and bully pulpit to bring along a few reluctant senators.

State Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, both Seattle Democrats, are working together to push the bill through the Legislature this year. It will not be easy.

But the public is ahead of most politicians on this one. Polls show increasing support — one even shows majority backing — for same-sex marriage. Younger voters especially do not consider gay marriage a big deal.

Legalization focuses on civil marriage. No law would compel any church to marry same-sex couples.

Murray and Pedersen have been working the issue for years, purposely employing an incremental approach to coax along the public, instead of abruptly forcing radical change. The first part of a three-pronged approach included hospital and funeral benefits. Then came financial arrangements, followed by other legal responsibilities and benefits that had been left out.

The logical next stop is full support of same-sex marriage.

Washington lawmakers should stand tall and take the tough but fair-minded vote.

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