Washington Governor Chris Gregoire on Wednesday announced she's backing an effort to legalize gay marriage in the state.

“As a wife, a mother, a student of the law and a lifelong Washingtonian committed to equality and justice, today, I'm announcing my support for a law that gives same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington – the same right given heterosexual couples. It is time, it is the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it,” Gregoire said at a news conference surrounded by marriage equality advocates in the state capital of Olympia.

“Same-sex couples should not be denied the meaning of marriage,” she added. “They have a right to be equal!”

Senator Ed Murray, who is expected to back the legislation in the Senate, said, “This bill will not pass unless there is a bipartisan vote for this bill,” and added that he knows of “a few” Republicans in the Senate who support the effort.

Gregoire, who is in the final year of her second term, has signed into law previous bills shoring up the state's domestic partnership law. The latest expansion approved in 2009 gives gay and lesbian couples most of the legal protections of marriage.

The 2009 expansion – dubbed “everything but marriage” – survived a referendum seeking to repeal the measure.

Marriage was defined as a heterosexual union with the passage of a 1998 law, which survived a legal challenge in 2006.

A poll released in October found that 55 percent of Washingtonians would vote against a ballot initiative that attempted to repeal a gay marriage law.