OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she wants Washington to become the seventh state in the nation to make gay marriage legal.

She said at a news conference she'll introduce the bill that, if passed by the state Legislature, would allow same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Washington state.

I can't sit here any longer and say it's OK to discriminate, she said. My church, all the churches, can exercise their freedom on deciding who to marry, but the state of Washington cannot, cannot, engage in discrimination.

Gregoire said the law would not require churches or other religious institutions to perform gay marriage ceremonies.

In November, a coalition called Washington United for Marriage announced it would lobby the Legislature to approve a gay marriage this year. In 2009 the Legislature passed, and voters later upheld, a bill that greatly expanded the rights of same-sex domestic partners. That measure was known as the everything but marriage bill. Nearly 19,000 people in Washington state are registered as domestic partners.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday for the start of a 60-day legislative session. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle and Rep. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, said a bill would be introduced next week.

They said that they would not attach a referendum clause to the bill, which would require the public to ultimately approve the measure if passed by the Legislature.

We need to take this vote, we need to take it this year, and we need to take it in the Legislature, Murray, who is openly gay, said. It's time for the Legislature to catch up with the public.

Murray acknowledged that it would be a tough battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 27-22 majority, but where some conservative Democrats have voted with Republicans in opposition to the state's domestic partnership law. Democrats hold a 56-42 majority in the House.

Pedersen noted that there also wasn't a plan to add an emergency clause, which would have the bill take effect immediately if passed. The lack of an emergency clause allows any opposition time to gather signatures for a referendum seeking to overturn a measure passed by the Legislature.

We need to be prepared for the idea that we might have to fight it at the ballot, Pedersen said.

Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Redmond s Antioch Bible Church, a long-time gay marriage opponent, said he believes Gregoire s endorsement is payback to the gay community who helped get her elected.

I think she is going to do this because she has to. I think that she s made promises to the community and the gay community to help her get into office in the first place, said Hutcherson.

Gregoire said the decision came from her heart.

The state cannot be in the business of discrimination, said Gregoire. It was that. It was my children. It was the children of friends. It was friends. It was leaders that, I finally said to myself It s time to do the right thing. And let me just tell you, I feel so much better today than I have for the last seven years.

Murray and Hutcherson take opposing viewpoints over the religious aspects of legalizing gay marriage.

I am a believer in the Bible. I am a pastor. I m a man of the cloth, any way you want to say it. The Bible says that when something is wrong, you stand up against it and I can t think of anything that the Bible says is wrong as being good for society if we go against it. Said Hutcherson.

First of all, this legislation will not redefine marriage for heterosexual couples and, second, it will not infringe on religious freedoms, said Murray

Murray, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he believes the Legislature can handle the business of dealing with the state s budget crisis and pass gay marriage legislation.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

I think Washingtonians really care about fairness and equality and I think that this is something the Legislature can do in tough economic times that doesn t cost anything, said Rod Hearne of Equal Rights Washington.

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