Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 05:33 PM
In a record night for same-sex marriage, Washington's Referendum 74 appeared to be winning approval, echoing voter support in two of the other three states with gay-marriage measures on the ballot.
Ref. 74 was ahead in initial vote counts with slightly more than 52 percent.
If it is ultimately successful, same-sex couples could apply for marriage licenses as early as Dec. 6.
An emotional Sen. Ed Murray, of Seattle, primary sponsor of Washington's same-sex-marriage legislation, said, "We are about to make history in this state.
"It means a lot to me because it means a lot to people around the state."
Washington and the other states would join six others and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is already legal.
For months, the nation's attention has been trained on the four states as the first real tests of whether America's attitude on such unions has softened, as national polls suggest.
In Maine, a measure to approve gay marriage had a solid lead with half the ballots counted. The results were tighter in Maryland, where a measure to legalize gay marriage was squeaking by with most precincts reporting.
In Minnesota, where some recent polls showed voters favoring a ban on same-sex marriage, the results were tied at 48 percent.
With about half the votes counted in Washington, Ref. 74 was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent.
At a campaign event in Lynnwood, opponents were still optimistic that uncounted ballots could go their way.
"Regardless of what happens tonight, we have fought for what is good, true and beautiful. I hope we can celebrate this week," said Joseph Backholm, campaign chairman for Preserve Marriage Washington, which was seeking to defeat Washington's gay-marriage law.
Referring to the early results in Maine, where gay marriage held a solid lead, Thomas Wheatley, director of organizing for Freedom to Marry, a major national gay-rights organization, said, "This would make our first win at the ballot. For the first time, same-sex marriage is being upheld in a popular statewide vote.
"We are very hopeful to continue winning" in the other states.
Earlier this year, Washington's Legislature passed and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 6239, which made the state's marriage laws gender-neutral and legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
Same-sex-marriage opponents set about gathering signatures to put the new law up to a vote, hoping voters would reject it. Through Preserve Marriage Washington, they easily qualified the measure for the ballot.
Backers of the law, meanwhile, expanded an already large and broad-based network of supporters, raising nearly $12 million in campaign donations — almost five times the amount raised by opponents, and the most of any campaign in the state.
Among the states considering gay-marriage measures this fall, Washington represented the best hope for breaking a 30-plus-state losing streak at the ballot box. In 2009, voters in this state approved a domestic-partnership referendum, marking the first time anywhere that relationship recognition for same-sex couples was advanced in a statewide ballot measure.
Times reporters Janet I. Tu and Susan Kelleher contributed.
|How gay marriage fared in other states|
Maine and Maryland voters were deciding whether to legalize gay marriage. Minnesota voters were deciding whether to enact a constitutional ban.
|Maine||Approve law: 54%|
|Maryland||Approve law: 52%|
|Minnesota||Tied on ban 48%|
Provisions of the lawIf Ref. 74 passes:
The law takes effect Dec. 6, rendering neutral the terms husband and wife.
Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and their clergy would be exempt from having to marry same-sex couples.
Couples currently registered under the state's domestic partnership law will have until June 30, 2014, to dissolve their partnerships or convert them to marriage. If they don't, the state will convert the partnerships for them.
Domestic partnerships will continue for couples — gay or straight — where at least one partner is at least 62.
Ref. 74 resultsAs of 10:12 p.m. Tuesday
STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Jodi Denny of Seattle reacts to news from the Washington United for Marriage campaign claiming the same-sex marriage measure will pass in the state.
ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
At the Wild Rose in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood Tuesday, Mandy McKay, left, hugs Kara Mitchell as results come in for Washington Referendum 74, a measure that could uphold legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington.
ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Kanisha Pinkney, in gray, and Mandy McKay, in white, and Kara Mitchell, right, react as results come in for the presidential race at the Wild Rose in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood Tuesday.