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Originally published Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 2:36 PM

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Wash. voters get final say on gay marriage law

Three years after approving an "everything but marriage" expansion to the state's domestic partnership law, voters get the final say Tuesday on whether Washington will join a handful of other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to get married.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Three years after approving an "everything but marriage" expansion to the state's domestic partnership law, voters get the final say Tuesday on whether Washington will join a handful of other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to get married.

Referendum 74 asks people to either approve or reject the state's new law legalizing same-sex marriage. That law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year, is on hold pending the outcome of the election.

Washington is one of four states where voters are being asked about gay marriage. As in Washington state, voters in Maryland and Maine will decide whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, voters will determine whether to place a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution, as 30 other states have done previously.

About $13.6 million has been spent on Washington state's campaign so far, with the bulk of it spent by gay marriage supporters. Washington United for Marriage has far outraised its opponents, bringing in more than $12 million compared to the $2.7 million raised by Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes the law.

The road to gay marriage in Washington state began several years ago. A year after the state's gay marriage ban was upheld by the state Supreme Court, the state's first domestic partnership law passed in 2007, granting couples about two dozen rights, including hospital visitation and inheritance rights when there is no will. It was expanded a year later, and then again in 2009, when lawmakers completed the package with the so-called "everything but marriage" bill that was ultimately upheld by voters later that same year.

This year, lawmakers passed the law allowing gay marriage and Gregoire signed it in February. Preserve Marriage gathered enough signatures for a referendum, and the law never took effect, instead remaining on hold pending Tuesday's vote. If voters uphold the law, gay couples could start picking up their marriage certificate and license from county auditor offices on Dec. 6, a day after the election is certified. However, because Washington state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest the certificate could be signed, making the marriage valid, is Dec. 9.

The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and doesn't subject them to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.

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