Correction: In 2009 the Maine legislature did what Washington’s just did – dump their DOMA and replace with a marriage equality law. A NOM-backed referendum rolled back Maine’s new law before it could be enacted. Washington will be the first state to replace DOMA with a marriage equality law if equality advocates succeed in defending the new law against a ballot measure challenge. Very sorry for the inadvertent misinformation.

Fifteen years ago the Washington state Legislature overrode Gov. Gary Locke’s veto and passed the discriminatory “defense of marriage act” (DOMA) to prevent gay and lesbian couples from obtaining civil marriage licenses. Today the Washington state Legislature became the first in the nation to correct its DOMA mistake and pass a marriage equality bill.

The bill (SB 6239) passed on bipartisan votes in the House today (55 to 43) and last week in the Senate (28 to 21). It now heads to Governor Gregoire’s desk for her signature.

The reasons for the legislature’s historic shift on marriage equality are no mystery. It is the result of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people being out to our family, friends, co-workers and fellow church members. By now, members of our communities know that lots of folks they interact with every day, care about and respect — from doctors to daughters to carpenters to constituents — are LGBT.

It is also the result of LGBT people and our allies telling friends and family why the freedom to marry matters to us. These conversations have translated into ever-increasing support for marriage equality among Washington voters who in turn have chosen pro-equality legislators to represent them in Olympia. Pro-equality voters elect pro-equality legislators. And lobby them, too.

In a twist of irony, every time LGBT families are attacked at the ballot box or in the legislature, it gives us another chance to tell our stories and for folks to see the inequity we face for simply being loving, committed couples.

Passing the marriage equality bill represents the second “first” for pro-equality Washington. In November, 2009 the state’s electorate became the first in the nation to uphold a comprehensive same-sex relationship recognition law at the polls when they approved Referendum 71 53.2% to 46.8%.

What’s next?

The marriage equality conversation has been going on in Washington for almost 40 years and isn’t over with today’s vote. The opposition has vowed to challenge to the new law with a referendum on the November ballot.

Deep-pocketed National Organization for Marriage has promised to bankroll the referendum effort with mountains of out-of-state cash, so as Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage says, “We take them at their word that they’re going to put this on the ballot.”

Once Gov. Gregoire signs the bill, NOM can officially file their referendum. After their ballot language is approved by, they’ll have until June 6th (90 days after the legislative session ends) to gather 120,577 valid signatures from Washington voters.

Under normal circumstances the marriage equality law would go into effect on June 7th, with wedding celebrations starting that same week. But by qualifying a referendum for the ballot Washington, D.C.-based NOM will take away that joy and right from loving Washington couples until the results of the November, 2012 election are known.

No matter what state you live in, what happens to the marriage equality law in Washington matters. As the federal DOMA repeal bill is debated in Congress and as DOMA challenges make their way to the US Supreme Court, it matters that another state has chosen to pass a marriage equality law. It matters that by passing this law Washington is asking the federal government to treat its loving, committed gay and lesbian couples equally under federal law and confer on them the 1138 federal rights, responsibilities and benefits that only come with marriage.

You can help build the national freedom to marry movement by helping Washington defend its new marriage equality law at the ballot box. Please support Washington United for Marriage. Find them on Facebook to learn more.

* Over 71 Percent of College Freshmen Support Same-Sex Marriage
* Washington voters are more ready than ever for marriage equality
* All of Washington state is moving towards equality