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WASHINGTON voters were asked to say “I do” to same-sex marriage and the response made history. Celebrate a triumphant moment for equality, civil spirit and, yes, love.

Passage of Referendum 74 on Nov. 6 cleared the way for the issuance of marriage licenses on Dec. 6.

The state’s three-day waiting period before couples can be joined in wedlock is but a nuptial nanosecond for gays and lesbians whose march toward marriage equality dates to the 1990s in Washington.

In very real ways the social and political path was set years ago for voters to endorse the same-sex marriage law passed in February with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was a freshman House member when the state first began to debate prohibitive defense-of-marriage acts, and eventually adopted one.

In response, Murray was instrumental in launching a campaign that, in his words, “pursued a progressive series of rights for gays and lesbians in domestic partnerships.”

Murray and others passed legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identify. Other laws removed legal hurdles for domestic partners from hospital visits to funeral planning, and later the financial realm of property and inheritance.

As the statutes and politics evolved, so did the public’s understanding and acceptance of the equality due neighbors, friends and family members who were gay and lesbian. Their right to live their lives, marry and raise families was acknowledged.

In 2009, a domestic-partnership measure was referred to voters and strongly approved. The same-sex marriage law of 2012 went to voters with broad community support from a network of coalitions and religious groups.

Murray credits years of steadfast support from Gregoire and state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, with the success of the incremental approach.

The campaign to defend same-sex marriage from the challenge of Referendum 74, and approve it, was promoted by Washington United for Marriage. Murray points to the organizational skills of board chair Lacey All and campaign director Zach Silk as elemental to the victory.

So was the generous campaign support that poured in from around the state. Individual and corporate donations reinforced the commitment for same-sex marriage.

Washington joins Maine, Maryland and Minnesota in making emphatic political and legal statements about the rights of gays and lesbians to marry and create families. These wins at the ballot box — not through the courts or legislatures — made history.

Popular support for the love and commitment expressed in the covenant of marriage trumped the ugly speech and tactics of those nomadic, out-of-state opponents of marriage equality.

The spirit of fairness that is part of Washington’s sense of itself was revealed in the early efforts to put the same-sex marriage law before voters via referendum. Some Catholic parishes pointedly refused to let signature gatherers circulate petitions on church property.

More than 500 community groups and religious organizations rallied behind the campaign to approve Referendum 74. Voters across Washington were asked to say “I do.” We did.