Supporters of gay marriage cheered Wednesday as a bill legalizing such unions cleared the Washington State Legislature.

“Thank you to the Washington State House – a civil, respectful debate on marriage equality,” messaged Governor Chris Gregoire to her more than 8,200 followers on Twitter. “And a 55-43 vote! Next stop, my desk!”

The Democrat-controlled House easily defeated many amendments aimed at weakening the bill, including one that would have expanded the measure's religious protections to private businesses and individuals. After a sometimes emotional 2-hour debate, House members voted on the measure.

The vote came a day after a federal court declared California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, in violation of the United States Constitution, and one week after the Washington Senate passed the measure with a wider margin than expected.

Gay members of the chamber used personal accounts in urging colleagues to vote for the measure.

“I would like for our four children – Trygve, Leif, Erik and Anders – to grow up understanding that their daddy and their papa have made that kind of a lifelong commitment to each other. Marriage is the word that we use in our society to convey that idea,” said Jamie Pedersen, the measure's chief sponsor in the House.

Most lawmakers who rose to oppose the bill cited their faith.

“This country was not founded on sexual liberty,” said Rep. Matt Shea, a Republican. “Where those two clash, religious liberty should always win out.”

Gay marriage group Freedom to Marry praised Pedersen for backing the measure.

“Today's win also comes as a result of dedication from elected officials like Rep. Jamie Pedersen, whose courageous leadership paved the way for this bill's passage in the House,” said Thalia Zepatos, director of public engagement at Freedom to Marry.

“Regardless of their gender, all couples should have the right to marry and protect their families,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. “We are hopeful that this wave of understanding will spread, and that soon all Americans will be able to live safely, authentically and free from discrimination.”

Opponents of making Washington the seventh state to legalize gay marriage have already begun an effort to repeal the measure at the ballot box. But voters in 2009 rejected a ballot question aimed at repealing the state's domestic partnership law, which gives gay and lesbian couples all the protections of marriage without the name.

Lacey All, the chair of Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to pass the bill, said the group was preparing to defend it at the ballot box.

“We do not doubt our opponents will be successful in placing a referendum on the ballot, and we will continue to build upon our momentum and win in November,” All said in a statement.