OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire handed gay rights advocates a major victory Monday, signing into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Gregoire signed the bill surrounded by gay rights supporters. "I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal," she said.
It's a historic moment for the state, but same-sex couples can't walk down the aisle just yet.
The law takes effect June 7, but opponents on multiple fronts already are preparing to fight.
Opponents filed Referendum 73 on Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned.
Gay marriage supporters said that while they are ready for a campaign battle, they are allowing themselves to celebrate first.
"You have to relish this moment," said 31-year-old Bret Tiderman of Seattle.
Tri-City supporters gathered Monday evening at Gettmann Hall in Kennewick for an emotional toast to their victory -- and to muster enthusiasm to continue the fight.
"Although this is a wonderful, momentous time, we already know a (referendum) was filed," said Pastor Janet Pierce of River of Life Metropolitan Community Church. "We are going to need your momentum to keep the ball rolling."
But she hoped opponents wouldn't gather enough signatures to make the November ballot so that she can start officiating at same-sex weddings in June.
The celebration was bittersweet for John Stark of Richland, who lost his partner last April after 19 years together and had trouble wrapping up his financial affairs despite their being registered as domestic partners.
"I was treated like I didn't exist," he said.
But he was pleased the new law means the women he describes as his "extended family" can have their relationship legally recognized as marriage.
"It means a lot for us," he said.
Janet and Susan Cloutier raised their glasses along with their friend Stark.
"This is a special time to be able to celebrate with everybody else and recognize that what we have is a marriage," said Janet, who has been in a relationship with Susan for 12 years.
The state reception room at the Capitol was packed with hundreds of gay rights supporters and at least 40 lawmakers from the House and Senate to watch Gregoire sign the bill.
Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years, told the cheering crowd: "My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow. No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us."
The House passed the bill on a 55-43 vote last Wednesday. The Senate approved it the week before.
As the Democratic governor signed the legislation Monday, a man shouted, "Do not betray Christ!" However, his voice was overwhelmed by gay-marriage supporters who cheered and spoke loudly during his outburst.
Bob Struble, 68, of Bremerton, was removed from the room and said he was given a warning by security. Struble said he believes the state will halt gay marriage in a public vote.
"We'll be doing everything we can to overturn this unfortunate law," Struble said.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who opposes gay marriage, was in town speaking with conservative voters. Santorum also met with Republican lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday afternoon.
Santorum said he encouraged gay-marriage opponents "to continue the fight."