A federal judge overturned Oregon’s gay marriage ban Monday, after state officials refused to defend the state’s constitutional ban in court.
Officials in Oregon's largest county, Multnomah, said they would begin issuing marriage licenses immediately if U.S. District Judge Michael McShane's decision allows it.
McShane last week denied a request by the National Organization for Marriage to defend the law on behalf of its Oregon members. On Monday morning, the group appealed that denial to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking an emergency stay of the decision.
But the appellate court quickly denied the group's request, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to begin upon news of the latest development.
Local LGBT groups cheered the decision.
"Today’s marriage equality victory in Oregon has been hard fought and a long journey. The work of many people brought us to this day… too many to name – some of whom are no longer with us and will never celebrate this accomplishment," head of Portland-based Q Center, Barbara McCullough-Jones, told Al Jazeera in an email.
In Portland, couples had lined up outside the county clerk's office in anticipation of a favorable decision.
Laurie Brown and Julie Engbloom arrived early Monday at the Multnomah County Building to form the line for marriage licenses. The two have been a couple for 10 years and in April, Engbloom proposed atop of Smith Rock in Central Oregon.
"We always knew we wanted to spend our whole life together," Brown said. "This opportunity has come, it feels right, everything has fallen into place."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Federal or state judges in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas recently have found state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. Judges also have ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
But opposition remains stiff in many places. Critics point out that most states still do not allow gay marriage and that in most that do, it was through action in courts or legislatures, not through popular mandate.
Four gay and lesbian couples brought the Oregon cases, arguing the state's marriage laws unconstitutionally discriminate against them and exclude them from a fundamental right to marriage.
In refusing to defend the ban, Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said there were no legal arguments that could support it in light of decisions last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. She sided with the couples, asking the judge to overturn the ban.
Gay rights in Oregon garnered national media attention in January, when the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, saying that it was against their religious principles, had unlawfully discriminated against the couple.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press