(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(Randy L. Rasmussen ~ AP/The Oregonian)
King County opened the doors to its auditor's office in Seattle just after midnight to begin distributing licenses. Hundreds of people had lined up hours earlier, snaking around the building on a chilly December night.
By Thursday afternoon, more than 430 licenses had been issued in Seattle, where the mood was festive.
"We waited a long time. We've been together 35 years, never thinking we'd get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can hardly stand it," said 85-year-old Pete-e Petersen, who with her partner, 77-year-old Jane Abbott Lighty, were the first to get a license.
After meeting 35 years ago on a blind date in Sacramento, Lighty and Petersen plan to get married Sunday. Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.
Washington state joins several states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday afternoon, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
(AP Photo/The Columbian, Zachary Kaufman)
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to marry gay or lesbian couples.
Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont -- and the District of Columbia, which had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Couples in Maryland also started picking up marriage licenses Thursday, though their licenses won't take effect until Jan. 1.
"I really imagined my life as being just with a partner and never having a wife, so to have this day come about and to be a part of it, it means everything to me," said Kim Hinken, who was the first person to get a marriage license in Anne Arundel County, Md.'s Circuit Court. The 52-year-old Edgewater resident said she has waited nearly 10 years to become legally married to Adrianne Eathorne.
Maine's law takes effect Dec. 29. There's no waiting period in Maine, and people can start marrying just after midnight.
In addition to private ceremonies that will start taking place across Washington state this weekend, Seattle City Hall will open for several hours Sunday, and several local judges are donating their time to marry more than 140 couples starting at 10 a.m. In Olympia, a group of local judges has offered to perform wedding ceremonies just after midnight on Sunday at the Thurston County courthouse.
Washington state has had a domestic partnership law in place since 2007. The initial law granted 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" law that was ultimately upheld by voters later that year.
This year, lawmakers passed the law allowing gay marriage, and Gregoire signed it in February. Opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum, putting the law on hold before it could take effect.