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Gay marriage supporters declare victory in R-74

Supporters of R-74 celebrate early election reults Tuesday night at the Westin Hotel. (KIRO Radio/Bill Lennert)

Supporters of gay marriage in Washington state say after crunching numbers throughout the night, they have determined that Referendum 74 will prevail once all ballots are counted. Voters passed similar measures in Maine and Maryland.

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With slightly more than half of expected ballots tallied Tuesday night, R-74 entered Wednesday with 52 percent of the vote, compared to 48 percent for those opposed. When the ballot count was released Wednesday evening, the percentage remained unchanged.

“This is a clear win,” Washington United for Marriage Campaign Manager Zach Silk said in a statement. “We have run the numbers every which way, and we can now confidently say that we have won. This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day and the wedding celebrations to come.”

The group opposed to R-74, Preserve Marriage Washington, said the campaign was still too close to call.

“There is still a path to victory for us,” said Chip White, Preserve Marriage Washington spokesperson. “I think people need to respect the process and wait for the ballots to come in.”

Eleven counties will return remaining ballots starting at 4:00 p.m. PST.

The measure asked Washingtonians to approve or reject a state law legalizing same-sex marriage that lawmakers passed earlier in the year. That law was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, but has been on hold pending the outcome of the election.

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, after lawmakers passed the law allowing gay marriage, Preserve Marriage gathered enough signatures for a referendum.

If voters uphold the law, gay couples could start picking up their marriage certificates and licenses from county auditor offices 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 reality is, if we could pass this thing, we have young people all over this country they’re going to wake up knowing that they’re going to be fully recognized. Their relationships are going to be validated and they’re going to be a part of an institution that everyone else is a part of,” said Lacey All, R-74 campaign chair.

The law does not require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and does not subject churches to penalties if they don’t marry gay or lesbian couples.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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