US & Canada

Washington state lawmakers vote to legalise gay marriage

A gay couple kiss after a court in California declared the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional 7 February 2012
Image caption Same-sex marriages could come into effect in Washington state by June

Lawmakers in the US state of Washington have passed a bill legalising gay marriage, making Washington the seventh US state to back the measure.

The House voted 55-43 in favour of the legislation, a week after it was passed by the state's Senate.

Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire is expected to sign the measure into law next week.

It comes a day after a California court declared a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.

Same-sex weddings are already legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, DC.

Legislators in the state of New Jersey are expected to vote on the matter next week and gay marriage could appear on the ballot in Maine in November.

Meanwhile, amendments to ban same-sex unions will be put to the vote later this year in North Carolina and Minnesota.

If approved, same-sex marriage laws would come into effect in Washington in June - 90 days after the governor signs the bill.

During that time, opponents have said they would campaign to put the issue on the state's ballot in November, in an effort to overturn the law.

If anti-gay marriage groups were able to gather enough signatures for a ballot measure, the bill would not be implemented until after the vote.

Following the introduction of domestic partnership laws in Washington in 2007, the laws were expanded to include "everything but marriage" in 2009.

In October, a survey conducted by the University of Washington found that 43% of respondents would support gay marriage legislation.

A further 22% said they supported equal rights for same-sex couples, without calling the union "marriage".

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