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Washington state passes same-sex marriage

Ted S. Warren / AP

Revelers display U.S. and gay pride flags as they celebrate early election returns favoring Washington state Referendum 74, which would legalize gay marriage.

SEATTLE -- The side opposed to same-sex marriage in Washington state has conceded that Referendum 74 will likely pass.

“While we are disappointed, we are not defeated,” said Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, in a statement. “We are fighting for a cause that is true, and beautiful, and right – the sacred institution of marriage. It’s a cause worth fighting for, and we will continue to educate citizens and policymakers on the timeless truth that real marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

NBC has also projected the measure will pass, marking a victory for advocates of same-sex marriage, who also saw successes in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota. The Senate also ushered in its first openly-gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

In Washington state, approving Referendum 74 changes the legal definition of marriage as a “civil contract between two persons." Previously, the law stated that marriage was between “a male and a female.”  

Related: 1 for 31 no more: Gay rights movement ends dismal record

The referendum also specifies that religious institutions may not be sued for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

The margin was too thin to determine whether the referendum had passed on Tuesday night, largely because of Washington’s mail-in ballot system. Votes postmarked Tuesday, Election Day, didn’t arrive until Wednesday or Thursday.   

Tuesday’s returns indicated that the referendum would pass, however, which ignited Capitol Hill, Seattle’s traditionally gay neighborhood. There, several blocks were shut down, a DJ blasted music, and the smell of marijuana wafted through the air. (The state had also passed the legalization of marijuana.)

Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, responded to the concession in a statement:

“From the beginning, this campaign told the stories of loving couples and their families who simply want to get married. All of us, from our volunteers, to our staff to the nearly 20,000 donors who invested in the freedom to marry, are enormously grateful to the voters of Washington State. Yes, we made history, but more importantly, we helped protect and defend thousands of families across the state.”

Advocates of same-sex marriage raised $14 million – far more than their opponents, who raised $2.7 million. That was partly thanks to a $2.5 million donation from Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and his wife MacKenzie, and $600,000 from Bill and Melinda Gates. Both couples live in the Seattle area.

The opposition mounted a national campaign that was largely headed by the same team that passed Proposition 8 in 2008. More than $1 million of the campaign’s money came from the National Organization for Marriage, according to Washington state’s Public Disclosure Commission. The ads opposing same-sex marriage in Washington recycled footage that had been used in ads in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.

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