OLYMPIA - With votes to spare, the state Senate passed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington, sending it to the House of Representatives.
The House is expected to take up the measure next week. Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the measure and has said she will sign it into law, though opponents have promised to challenge it at the ballot with a referendum.
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, is one of the House bill's 50 co-sponsors.
Senators passionately but respectfully debated a bill Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, called "as contentious as any this body has considered" and then passed it on a 28-21 vote. A full gallery erupted after the vote.
Those who oppose it should not be accused of bigotry, Murray said. Those who support it should not be accused of religious intolerance.
"This is a difficult personal issue because it is about what is closest to us ... family," he said. "Marriage is how society says you are a family."
It was a largely partisan vote: Four Republicans voted yes; three Democrats voted no. Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was among those opposed.
"The bill as it left the Senate should have included a referendum clause and be put before voters in the fall. I have heard from so many constituents who want the opportunity to weigh in on it," Hewitt said in a prepared statement.
Supporters adopted some amendments offered by opponents to address concerns the bill didn't go far enough to protect churches and religious-based organizations that believe marriage is strictly between a man and a woman.
No clergy would have to perform a same-sex marriage and no church would be forced to allow its facility to be used for one.
Faith-based adoption and foster agencies would not be forced to place children in the homes of same-sex couples under amendments added to the bill.
The Associated Press and Union-Bulletin contributed to this report.