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January 4, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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UPDATE: Gregoire proposes legislation to legalize gay marriage

Updated 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday said she'll put forward legislation to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

The proposal will be introduced during the legislative session that starts Monday. If it's approved, Washington would become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.

"Today, I'm announcing my support for a law that gives same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington - the same right given our heterosexual couples," Gregoire said before a crowd of gay marriage supporters at her office. "It is time, it is the right thing to do, and I will introduce the bill to make it happen."

The governor spoke for 20 minutes, laying out what she sees as the moral and legal reasons for the move, as well as the evolution of her personal views over the years.

"I have been on my own journey. I will admit that. It has been a battle for me with my religion," said Gregoire, who is Catholic. "I have always been uncomfortable with the position that I have taken publicly. And then I came to realize the religions can decide what they want to do, but it is not OK for the state to discriminate."

Gregoire has supported giving gay and lesbian partners the same rights that married couples have today, but has never endorsed same-sex marriage publicly.

While running for governor in 2004, she supported legal rights for same-sex couples but said, "I do not believe that Washington state is ready to support gay marriage."

And in a 2008 interview, when she ran for a second term, Gregoire said, "To me, the state's responsibility is to absolutely ensure equality. The other is a religious issue, and I leave it to the churches to make that call about marriage."

Currently, gay marriage is legal in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a gay lawmaker and leader in the marriage effort, said the gay-marriage legislation being developed would "amend the statutes to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and to get a marriage license under Washington state law."

However, he said, churches wouldn't be required to perform marriage services for gay and lesbian couples.

Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the state Senate and a 56-42 advantage in the state House. However, some conservative Democrats in the Senate have voted with Republicans in the past to oppose extending rights to same-sex couples.

The marriage-equality campaign is the result of years of effort by Murray and other backers of gay rights.

The Legislature first passed a law in 2006 prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, lending and insurance. The rights of same-sex couples have been expanded in a series of subsequent laws, culminating in 2009's "everything but marriage law," which was upheld by a public vote on Referendum 71 that fall.

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