Gay marriage headed to approval

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OLYMPIA — Supporters of gay marriage in Washington state said they were in a “very strong position” Tuesday night, with early returns showing voters narrowly approving same-sex marriage in the state after residents gave similar measures the go-ahead in Maryland and Maine.

With about half the expected ballots counted, Referendum 74 was passing with 52 percent of the vote.

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

“I think it’s premature to declare victory, but we’re in a very strong position,” said Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, which supports gay marriage.

Other supporters were even more optimistic, cheering and hugging in response to the results at election watch parties in the state. In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the police closed off several blocks for an outdoor election celebration, where more than 1,000 people were dancing and chanting “74, 74, 74.”

The measure was losing in 31 of the state’s 39 counties. But it had its strongest lead — 65 percent of the vote — in King County, the state’s largest county and home to Seattle.

About $13.6 million has been spent on the campaign, with the bulk of it coming from gay marriage supporters. Washington United for Marriage far outraised its opponents, bringing in more than $12 million compared with the $2.7 million raised by Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes the law.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that when all the ballots are in that the voters of Washington will not redefine marriage,” said Chip White, a Preserve Marriage spokesman. “We don’t need to win King County to win the state. There’s still a path to victory for us.”

Maine and Maryland on Tuesday night became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. They join six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage.

Maine’s measure passed with 54 percent of the vote, while the measure in Maryland matched Washington state’s lead of 52-48 percent. In Minnesota, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in their state. Gay marriage remains illegal under Minnesota state law.

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