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Wash. gay marriage referendum qualifies for ballot

A referendum on gay marriage in Washington state has qualified for the ballot.

The secretary of state's office announced Tuesday that Referendum 74 passed the signature-verification process that has been taking place since last week.

Sponsors turned in 247,331 signatures, far more than the minimum of 120,577 valid voter signatures required. A 3 percent random sample was done and of the 7,561 signatures that were sampled during the check, 6,877 were accepted and the rest were rejected.

The referendum seeks to overturn the measure allowing same-sex marriage in the state. That law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year. The law was supposed to take effect last Thursday but was put on hold once the signatures were turned in last Wednesday.

National groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, have said they'll aggressively fight to strike down Washington's new law.

Gay marriage supporters, expecting that the referendum would qualify, have been raising money to protect the law. Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, has said he expects both sides to raise millions of dollars.

President Barack Obama recently declared his support for gay marriage. In Washington state, the referendum has split the state's two candidates for governor. Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, but that state is also poised to have a public vote this fall.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007 and in 2009 passed an "everything but marriage" expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.

A recent poll by Seattle consulting firm Strategies 360 showed that 54 percent of voters in the state think it should be legal for same-sex couples to get married, though the poll didn't specifically ask them how they would vote on a referendum.

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