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Originally published Monday, November 14, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Effort to make gay marriage legal in Wash. begins

Activists launched a campaign Monday to make Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex couples to marry - and received a quick endorsement from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee.

Associated Press

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BELLEVUE, Wash. —

Activists launched a campaign Monday to make Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex couples to marry - and received a quick endorsement from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee.

"For him, it's an equal rights issue," said Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith. "He feels really strongly that the government shouldn't have a role in preventing a committed couple from enjoying the kind of marriage he has with his wife."

In a news conference at a Bellevue community center, a coalition called Washington United for Marriage announced it would lobby the Legislature to approve a gay marriage law next year. The measure would not grant same-sex couples any significant new rights - Washington has had an expanded domestic partnership law, the "everything but marriage" law, on the books since 2009.

Instead, supporters said, the effort is about erasing the stigma that long-term couples face when they have to introduce their significant others as "my partner," rather than "my husband," or "my wife."

"Everyone else has the right to be married, to have that recognized," said Nancy Woods, of Redmond, who attended the kick-off with her partner of 11 years, Jana Simpson, and their three young children. "When I say, `That's my partner,' people say, `Oh, business partner?'"

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Republican candidate for governor, supports the state's domestic partnership law but does not support gay marriage, said his campaign manager, Randy Pepple.

"Rob believes that this is an issue that is going to be decided by the voters," Pepple said.

Advocates said Monday they decided to take the issue up with Olympia, rather than in a statewide initiative, because they and many other people dislike the notion of allowing people to vote on fundamental rights. Asked whether lawmakers are too preoccupied with difficult budget problems to take up the matter, Rod Hearne, executive director of Equal Rights Washington, said he didn't think so.

"This is an opportunity to help families in tough times. It doesn't cost anything," he said.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said bills will be introduced in the House and the Senate in January.

Murray, a gay lawmaker who has spearheaded past gay rights and domestic partnership laws in the state, said the underlying domestic partnership law has helped lay the groundwork for full marriage. He said he will sponsor the bill in the Senate, where passage could be a challenge.

"It's not a sure thing," he said. "At some point you need to be willing to take the risk and move forward."

Washington United for Marriage will stage a series of suburban town halls in the coming weeks to rally support. Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

Gary Randall, president of the conservative Faith and Freedom Network, vowed to fight the effort in a blog post Monday. He said his organization would encourage lawmakers to oppose what he called "the assault on marriage and a crusade to redefine it."

"We believe in marriage. We are willing to defend it," he said, "despite the scorn sometimes directed at this stand."

---(equals)

Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte contributed from Olympia.

Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPSeattle

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