With the stroke of a pen, Governor Christine Gregoire ended years of frustration, years of invisibility felt by gay and lesbian couples in the state of Washington.

"It means dignity and respect, that we're the same as everybody else," said Rachel Smith-Mosel, who witnessed the signing along with her partner and their children.

The governor signed a measure that gives same-sex domestic partners and some unmarried seniors all the rights and benefits our state offers married couples.

"Despite the sameness, absolute sameness between straight and gay and lesbian couples," said Gregoire, "nonetheless, here in the state of Washington, we saw discrimination. We saw inequality that had to be addressed."

And as the ink flowed to make that happen, so did the tears. Emotion poured from witnesses as they crowded around the desk where Gregoire signed the bill.

"We've always been a family, we've never not been a family, but to have the rights that married couples enjoy is a big deal," said Amie Bishop, who also witnessed the signing with her partner and their children.

The bill expands domestic partnerships to include, among other things:

-Rights to wages and benefits

-Unemployment and disability

-Workers compensation

-Insurance benefits

Everything "but" marriage for the state's nearly 54-hundred registered domestic partner couples...and it's that "but" that some activists put next on their list.

"Our commitment is solid, our family is solid and we just need the same rights and protections and I hope that marriage would come soon," says Smith-Mosel.

The everything but marriage law is scheduled to take effect this July, but it could be stopped before that can happen.

Opponents have already filed a referendum to put the new law up for a vote.

They have until July 25th to gather more than 120-thousand signatures to put the referendum on the November ballot.

Among the new rights given to domestic partners:

-The right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner.

-The right to wages and benefits when a domestic partner is injured, and to unpaid wages upon the death of a domestic partner.