The state Senate in Washington passed a bill on Wednesday night that puts the Evergreen State on a course to becoming the seventh state in the country to legalize gay marriage. The Senate was expected to be the tougher of the two houses to get the bill through (though both houses are controlled by Democrats), but the measure passed easily and could be approved by the House as early as next week. Governor Chris Gregoire has already announced her intentions to sign it, joining her state with New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont as those where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed.

Opposition groups have already announced their intention to oppose the Washington bill via a referendum. They would need to get 120,000 by June 6 to the put the issue on the November ballot. If they fail to do so, the law would automatically take effect this summer. North Carolina and Minnesota will be voting on gay marriage bans this year, and Maine could see a pro-gay marriage issue on the ballot in November as well.

State Senator Ed Murray, a sponsor of the bill who is gay himself, said the vote was "stunning" and "something we did not believe would happen in our lifetime." The Senate debate on the bill was short and "civil" without the usual dramatics that often accompany such controversial ideas, though dozens of supporters traveled to Olympia to watch the vote and cheered from the Senate gallery upon the passage of the bill.

Washington already has a domestic partnership law that passed in 2007, but under the new bill, any couple that doesn't end their partnership within two years would automatically become married.