The state House on Wednesday approved legislation legalizing gay marriage, voting 55-43. The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.

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OLYMPIA — The only thing left is Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature.

Legislation legalizing gay marriage is on its way to the governor after passing the state House by a 55-43 vote on Wednesday.

Gregoire, who supports the measure and watched as lawmakers voted, has five days to sign the bill after it’s sent to her office. She’s expected to announce Thursday when she’ll sign the measure.

There was never any doubt the legislation would be approved in the House. More than 50 lawmakers announced support for the bill before it came up for a vote.

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The biggest hurdle was the state Senate, which has conservative Democrats opposed to the measure. Even there, it passed last week with a 28-21 vote.

Lawmakers in the House debated the measure for more than two hours, although as Republican Rep. Jay Rodne, a gay-marriage opponent from North Bend, noted early on, “This bill is going to pass. It’s a foregone conclusion.”

Rodne and other opponents argued gay marriage is not an issue of civil rights.

“Marriage has been the union of a man and a woman,” he said. “When that union is consummated there is potential for the creation of life. Marriage is about life.”

Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, said allowing gay marriage would remove a foundation stone for society. “We believe that when you redefine marriage, you put the whole building at risk. The whole structure of society,” he said.

Supporters of the legislation disagreed.

“Someone made the comment that this not about equality. Well, yes it is about equality,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, one of two House Republicans who voted for the measure.

“My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago. I thought I would agonize about that. But nothing is different,” Walsh said. “She’s still a fabulous human being and she’s met a person that she loves very much and someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid. I hope that’s what I can do.”

Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, a gay lawmaker who helped lead efforts to push the bill through the Legislature, said, “Marriage is the word our society uses to describe committed lifelong relationships.”

In addition to Walsh, one other House Republican, Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, voted for the bill. Three Democrats voted against it: Reps. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw; Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma; and Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way.

Gay-marriage supporters packed the House galleries and burst into applause when the vote tally was announced.

John Breitweiser, 63, and Stuart Wilber, 73, both of Seattle, watched the debate from the Senate gallery. They’ve been together for 34 years and were already married in Vancouver, B.C., but said they’ll probably get married in this state on their 35th anniversary.

“Getting married in Washington would be more meaningful because it’s our own community,” Breitweiser said.

The measure, once signed by the governor, would take effect June 7 — 90 days after the end of the regular legislative session. However, opponents promise to challenge the measure at the ballot.

Once the governor signs the law, opponents have until June 6 to collect at least 120,577 signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot. If they succeed, the law would be suspended until voters decided by a simple majority whether to retain the law or throw it out.

Eight amendments were introduced by lawmakers opposed to the bill. They were all rejected, including one that would shield from discrimination claims businesses such as photographers, cake decorators and others that refuse to provide services for gay-marriage ceremonies.

The bill contains a provision that says churches do not have to marry gay couples unless they want to, and another that says religiously affiliated schools don’t have to accommodate same-sex weddings.

Gay marriage currently is legal six states and Washington, D.C.

Seattle Times reporter Stephanie Kim contributed to this story.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8267 or agarber@seattletimes.com.