Washington state gears up for wave of same-sex marriage applications

* Washington state gay marriage law takes effect Thursday

* First weddings set for Sunday

OLYMPIA, Wash., Dec 5 (Reuters) - County clerks across

Washington state braced on Wednesday for a flood of

marriage-license applications from gay and lesbian couples eager

to exchange vows once a new law legalizing same-sex matrimony

takes effect at the stroke of midnight.

Washington made history last month as one of three U.S.

states where marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples

by popular vote, joining Maryland and Maine in passing ballot

initiatives on Nov. 6 recognizing gay nuptials.

Washington will be the first of those states to put its law

into effect on Thursday. Same-sex matrimony goes on the books in

Maryland and Maine on Dec. 29 and Jan. 1, respectively.

Under Washington state law, all would-be brides and grooms

must submit their marriage certificates at least three days in

advance. So the first wave of same-sex Washington weddings -

expected to number in the hundreds - is scheduled for Sunday.

In Olympia, the state capital, the Thurston County Auditor's

Office planned to open at midnight to grant marriage licenses to

the 15 same-sex couples who entered a lottery to be served

first. The office will reopen at 7 a.m. to serve others.

"It's exciting," said Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, a

Republican. "This is a moment people will look back at years

from now. I think it's important to acknowledge and celebrate

it."

Lisa Brodoff and Lynn Grotsky will be the first same-sex

couple in Thurston County - and perhaps the state - to receive a

marriage license.

"It's a feeling of unmitigated happiness," said Brodoff, 57,

a law professor at Seattle University. "We've been together

almost 32 years and we've looked forward to and hoped for this

day for virtually the entire time we've been together."

SAVING THAT DATE

Brodoff said she and Grotsky, 56, could have tied the knot

in one of the six states w here same-sex marriage was already

legal, but they wanted to wait until they could marry in their

home state.

In Seattle, King County offices were also slated to open at

midnight to serve same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses and

planned to stay open late, until 6:30 p.m., on Thursday, in

anticipation of a surge. About 140 couples were already expected

to show up at City Hall in Seattle for weddings being held there

on Sunday.

In Tacoma, Pierce County will open its doors at 6:30 a.m. on

Thursday, two hours earlier than usual, and will provide weekend

hours, as well.

"We expect we'll have a large crowd," Pierce County Chief

Deputy Auditor Lori Augino said. "We're prepared to help upward

of 150 couples (on Thursday), whether they show up or not."

While heterosexual couples face difficulties enough picking

an ideal time and place for their nuptials, the fraught politics

of same-sex marriage in Washington state made it much trickier

for gay and lesbian couples to plan ahead.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed a bill to

legalize gay marriage in February, and Democratic Governor

Christine Gregoire, swiftly signed it into law.

But opponents collected enough signatures to temporarily

block the measure from taking effect and force the issue onto

the state ballot in November.

Voters passed it by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Olympia residents Tina Roose and Teresa Guajardo said they

would wait until Dec. 15 to marry, having reserved the majestic

Capitol rotunda for a pre-Christmas wedding ceremony.

The uncertainty of the ballot initiative process proved a

bit of a nail-biter as Roose and Guajardo waited for the

election results to see if they could keep their reservation.

"We had faith in the voters of Washington," Roose said,

adding they had invited other couples, both gay and straight, to

tie the knot alongside them at the Capitol.

As for those who voted against same-sex marriage, Roose said

she hoped they would be won over "with love."

"You can only change people's attitudes one heart at a

time," she said.

(Additional reporting by Laura L. Myers in Seattle; Editing by

Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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