Oregon became the second state to register same-sex marriage licenses Friday after a state appeals court upheld a lower court order directing officials to record more than 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Multnomah County.
Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers asked the appeals court to order a hold on registration while a lawsuit challenging the licenses is pending. Myers played down the importance of registration, saying it was an administrative act that would not authenticate the 3,022 marriage licenses Multnomah County issued earlier this year, because the Oregon Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.
The lower court in April also ordered Multnomah County -- which includes Portland -- not to issue more licenses to same-sex couples until there could be a binding response to the issue from either legislators or the state Supreme Court.
State recognition of same-sex marriages as valid presumably would entitle the couples to the same state benefits accorded to heterosexual married couples, including health care benefits and the right to sue on behalf of a spouse.
Voters may settle the issue in November, inasmuch as a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage appears headed for the ballot.
The Defense of Marriage Coalition, the group leading the fight against same-sex marriage, has turned in a record 244,000 signatures -- with 100,000 needed to send the measure to voters.
State officials have until Aug. 1 to validate the signatures.
Steve Wagenhoffer, a gay father who married his partner of 13 years on the first day Multnomah County began offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was overjoyed after hearing of the appeals court action.
"There's a sense of great relief I feel," he said.
To date, only Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriage, although Vermont recognizes civil unions. California, New Jersey and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws that provide certain legal rights to same-sex couples.