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Supreme Court declines request to halt same-sex marriages in Oregon

Gay and lesbian couples and their supporters react to the news of a federal judge striking down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage at the headquarters of Oregon United for Marriage on May 19, 2014, in Portland, Ore. The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to halt gay marriages in the state while an appeal is pending. (Gosia Wozniacka/AP)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed same-sex marriages to continue in Oregon by declining a request to put on hold a federal judge’s order that the state’s ban was unconstitutional.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) had asked the court to halt the unions while the group tried to intervene in the case and appeal the May 19 ruling of U.S. District Judge Michael McShane.

The organization had filed its request with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who receives emergency requests from that region of the country. Kennedy referred it to the full court, and the justices denied the petition without comment or recorded dissent.

The group is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to allow it to challenge the decision because Oregon officials have refused to do so. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) has said she agrees with those who say Oregon’s ban is unconstitutional.

Oregon has issued hundreds of marriage licenses to same-sex couples since McShane’s order.

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It is the 19th state to allow same-sex unions, although the bans on same-sex marriage in other states have been struck down by federal judges since the Supreme Court gave twin victories to gay rights activists last June.

Although the court did not rule on whether states may ban same-sex marriages, it struck down part of a federal law that withheld federal recognition of same-sex unions. An unbroken string of judicial decisions have used the court’s reasoning to strike down state bans.

But most of those rulings have been stayed during the appeals process. And the Supreme Court in January halted same-sex marriages in Utah after a federal judge there had ruled its ban unconstitutional.

In the Utah case, the law is being vigorously defended by state officials.

But in the Oregon case, the question for the justices was whether it was likely that NOM would succeed at the 9th Circuit in its attempt to intervene in the case. The group acknowledged that it faced procedural problems, and the county clerk and others it purported to represent in the case would not be identified by name.

In the Supreme Court’s other decision last summer, it said that an outside group could not defend California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriages when state officials refused. The court’s decision meant that a federal judge’s order declaring the ban unconstitutional stood, and same-sex marriages have resumed in that state.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.

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