Washington - A new law legalising same-sex matrimony came into effect in Washington state on Thursday and officials geared up for a flood of marriage-license applications from gay and lesbian couples eager to exchange vows.
Washington made history last month as one of three US states where marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples by popular vote, joining Maryland and Maine in passing ballot initiatives on November 6 recognising gay nuptials.
Washington became the first of those states to put its law into effect - it became law at the stroke of midnight - and same-sex matrimony is set to go on the books in Maine on December 29 and in Maryland on January 1.
Under Washington state law, all would-be brides and grooms must submit their marriage certificates at least three days in advance. So the first wave of same-sex Washington weddings - expected to number in the hundreds - is scheduled for Sunday.
In Olympia, the state capital, the Thurston County Auditor's Office planned to grant marriage licences to the 15 same-sex couples who entered a lottery to be served first at midnight. The office was to reopen in the morning to serve others.
"It's exciting," said Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, a Republican. "This is a moment people will look back at years from now. I think it's important to acknowledge and celebrate it."
Lisa Brodoff and Lynn Grotsky, partners of nearly 32 years, were aiming to be among the first same-sex couples in Thurston County - and perhaps the state - to receive a marriage license.
"We have the greatest feeling of happiness and relief and excitement," said Brodoff, 57, a law professor at Seattle University. "We've had this overwhelming flood of e-mails and Facebook and telephone calls - snail mail even - with people congratulating us."
Brodoff said she and Grotsky, 56, could have tied the knot in one of the six states where same-sex marriage was already legal, but they wanted to wait until they could marry in their home state.
While heterosexual couples face difficulties enough picking an ideal time and place for their nuptials, the fraught politics of same-sex marriage in Washington state made it much trickier for gay and lesbian couples to plan ahead.
The Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a bill to legalise gay marriage in February, and Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire swiftly signed it into law.
But opponents collected enough signatures to temporarily block the measure from taking effect and force the issue onto the state ballot in November. Voters passed it by 54 percent to 46 percent.
Olympia residents Tina Roose and Teresa Guajardo said they would wait until December 15 to marry, having reserved the majestic state Capitol rotunda for a pre-Christmas wedding ceremony.
The uncertainty of the ballot initiative process proved a bit of a nail-biter as Roose and Guajardo waited for the election results to see if they could keep their reservation.
"I am able to marry the person that I love," Roose said. She said the couple had invited others, both gay and straight, to tie the knot alongside them at the Capitol.
"I just ran into a colleague today at a grocery," added Roose, a retired librarian. "She was so excited. She asked all the typical questions like, 'What are you going to wear?'"
As for those who voted against same-sex marriage, Roose said she hoped they would be won over "with love."
"You can only change people's attitudes one heart at a time," she said. - Reuters