A proud, historic day for Washington

This is a historic day for the state of Washington, and for the nation.

Today, for the first time, same-sex couples can apply for a Washington marriage license, made possible by last month’s unprecedented statewide vote.

On Sunday, after the mandatory three-day waiting period, same-sex wedding ceremonies can officially begin, and they will be the first marriages authorized by popular vote in the United States.

Although voters also approved same-sex marriages in Maine and Maryland this year, wedding ceremonies in those states cannot occur until January.

The significance of extending marriage equality to all Americans cannot be understated. It is being called the civil rights movement of the modern era.

Gov. Christine Gregoire, who as a Catholic struggled with this issue, credits her two daughters for being instrumental in “getting myself to the right decision.”

Gregoire told The Olympian editorial board this week that her daughters reminded her “that’s how I spoke to my mother about race ... I would sit there and listen to them say it to me and I thought, wow, listen to the kids ... ‘Mom, you understand, this is our civil rights movement of our generation.’ ”

Our governor’s path to marriage equality reflects a common but diminishing generational divide. Survey after survey has shown that young people overwhelmingly accept the normality of same-sex relationships.

The day is coming when people all across American will look back to 2012 and wonder why people made such a fuss about equality.

When that day comes, we hope the work of people like Gregoire and state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is not forgotten. Murray was relentless in championing the rights of the gay and lesbian community among his colleagues in the Legislature.

The road to the ceremonies that will be held on Sunday has not been an easy one. The Legislature blocked giving even civil rights to same-sex couples for nearly 30 years, until it finally did so in 2006. The next year, lawmakers approved domestic partnerships and extended the list of legal rights for same-sex couples in 2008.

Three years ago the Legislature passed another domestic partnership bill that included all civil rights but stopped short of marriage, and received statewide voter approval.

The final step in this gradual march to equality came this year when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 6239, which legalized same-sex marriage, and was affirmed on Nov. 6 by 53.7 percent of voters.

Washingtonians should be proud to lead the nation on this civil rights issue, and of our state’s elected leaders who struggled personally and publicly to help us get there.