Washington state readies for same-sex marriage as law takes effect

* Same-sex marriage becomes law in Washington state

* First gay weddings expected at the weekend

OLYMPIA, Wash., Dec 6 (Reuters) - A new law legalizing

same-sex matrimony came into effect in Washington state on

Thursday and officials geared up for a flood of marriage-license

applications from gay and lesbian couples eager to exchange

vows.

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 became the first of those states to put its law

into effect - it became law at the stroke of midnight - and

same-sex matrimony is set to go on the books in Maine on Dec. 29

and in Maryland on Jan. 1.

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 grant marriage licenses to the 15 same-sex

couples who entered a lottery to be served first at midnight.

The office was to reopen in the morning 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, partners of nearly 32 years,

were aiming to be among the first same-sex couples in Thurston

County - and perhaps the state - to receive a marriage license.

"We have the greatest feeling of happiness and relief and

excitement," said Brodoff, 57, a law professor at Seattle

University. "We've had this overwhelming flood of e-mails and

Facebook and telephone calls - snail mail even - with people

congratulating us."

SAVING THAT DATE

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

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

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

home state.

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

state 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.

"I am able to marry the person that I love," Roose said. She

said the couple had invited others, both gay and straight, to

tie the knot alongside them at the Capitol.

"I just ran into a colleague today at a grocery," added

Roose, a retired librarian. "She was so excited. She asked all

the typical questions like, 'What are you going to wear?'"

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.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston and Jon Boyle)

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