Washington’s state senate approved a bill last night to give equal marriage rights to gay citizens, 28-21.

The lifting of the gay marriage ban is now almost certain to pass as it heads to the state’s House of Representatives, where it is not expected to encounter majority opposition.

Governor Christine Gregoire could sign the bill into law as soon as next week to make Washington the seventh state in the union to allow gay couples to marry.

Last week, Mary Margaret Haugen, a Democratic state senator representing Camano Island, became the 25th senator needed to back the move to allow gays equal marriage rights.

At the vote, 28 state senators came out in favour of the move, four of whom were Republicans.

In favour of keeping the ban were 18 Republicans and three Democrats.

Senator Ed Murray, a gay Democrat representing Seattle and sponsor of the bill said supporters were “patriots who are trying to do what is best for our country” and extended all senators an invitation to his wedding, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Opponents may still force a state-wide ballot in July if the legislation is successfully passed in both houses if they can garner enough support in a petition: 120,577 by the beginning of July.

Before the state legislature’s session began this year, Governor Gregoire announced her support for the move at the capital, Olympia.

She told a press conference: “It is time in Washington state for marriage equality. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families: making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment.

“For all couples, a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established civil law.”

Coffee giant Starbucks has been among multi-nationals based in Washington state to back the draft legislation.

A statement from the Seattle-based hot drink titan says it was “proud” to join other Washington-based employers like Microsoft and Nike as support for equal marriage brews in the state.

Earlier this month, Microsoft, which has supported equal rights for gays in the state before, added its voice to those supporting the legislation, saying: “Microsoft’s greatest asset is a talented workforce as diverse as our customers. As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.

“This legislation would put Washington employers on equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples.

“Passing the bill would be good for our business and for the state’s economy.”