Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is expected to sign a bill into law today that expands a domestic partnership law to grant gay and lesbian couples all the rights and benefits that the state offers married couples except the name, reports The News Tribune.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill, dubbed the “everything but marriage bill” by the media, in April along a mostly party-line vote of 62 to 35 after nearly two hours of debate. Senators approved the bill in March with a 30 to 18 vote.

Gregoire, a Democrat who assumed office in 2005, signed the original 2006 domestic partnership law and two previous expansions.

“Our state is one that thrives on diversity,” Gregoire said in a statement after the House vote. “We have to respect and protect all of the families that make up our communities.”

The bill was sponsored by openly gay Senator Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who sponsored the state's domestic partnership law in 2007, while openly gay Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat, sponsored the measure in the House.

Washington state lawmakers defined marriage as an institution between a man and a woman when it banned gay marriage in 1998. In 2006, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law.

Last year, lawmakers successfully passed a bill that greatly expanded the partnership protections, moving from only 11 rights to over 170. The 110-page bill expands benefits further to include all remaining areas previously only granted to heterosexual married couples.

Opponents announced an attempt to repeal the bill in November, even before it has become law. An effort one gay marriage foe is calling unwinnable.

Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, says his group filed Referendum 71 because the new bill is too close to marriage and violates the law.

“The bill ... elevates homosexual relationships to that of traditional marriage, thus eliminating any legal difference between domestic partnerships and marriage,” Randall wrote in a blog entry posted on the group's website.

“I do not believe a majority [of] Washingtonians believe in homosexual marriage, nor do they want to become a national attraction for homosexuals from other states and countries,” he adds.

But at least one gay marriage opponent is staying out of the fight, arguing that opponents should be organizing for an imminent gay marriage battle.

“Why fight a battle you can't win? It will cause you to lose a war you can win,” Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is leader of Positive Christian Agenda, told the paper. “It will undermine our position when it comes to fighting the marriage battle.”

Backers of Referendum 71 have until July 25 to gather more than 120,500 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. A process that cannot begin until after the bill becomes law. If the measure qualifies for the ballot, the law would be delayed until after the results of the November election are known.