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Dozens of same-sex couples marry after federal judge strikes down Oregon ban

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    May, 19, 2014: Julie Engbloom, left, and Laurie Brown, right, get married by Judge Beth A. Allen at the Melody Ballroom in Portland, Ore. (ap)

  • Gay Marriage-Oregon.jpg

    May 19, 2014: Laurel Gregory, left, and Shilpi Benerjee pass the time waiting for a ruling in front of the Multnomah County Recorder's building in Portland, Ore. (AP)

Dozens of same-sex couples were officially married Monday after a federal judge ruled that Oregon's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said the ban discriminates against gay couples and ordered Oregon not to enforce it. Oregon officials earlier refused to defend the ban in court.

Jubilant couples began applying for marriage licenses immediately after McShane issued his ruling, and many were married hours later. In Portland, Multnomah County issued more than 70 licenses, according to the gay-rights group Oregon United for Marriage.

"I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families," McShane wrote. "Families who we would expect our constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure."

KTVU reported that two of the plaintiffs in the case, Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, were the first couple to be married in Multnomah County, Oregon after the decision was announced. 

In Portland, some couples lined up for their licenses more than four hours before McShane released his opinion in Eugene.

Kelly and Patty Reagan took the day off work to get married, their kids along with them. Kelly Reagan says Monday's ruling is the final validation -- "the official stamp."

McShane joined judges in seven other states who have struck down gay marriage bans, though appeals are underway. 

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.

Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum refused to defend the ban, saying there are no legal arguments that could support it in light of decisions last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judge denied a request by the National Organization for Marriage to defend the law on behalf of its Oregon members. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused the group's request for an emergency stay of that decision, allowing same-sex marriages to proceed.

Gay rights groups previously said they've collected enough signatures to force a statewide vote on gay marriage in November. However, they said they would discard the signatures and drop their campaign if the court ruled in their favor by May 23.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. It determined the law improperly deprived gay couples of due process.

In addition to Oregon, 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 note most states still do not allow gay marriage and that in most of those that do, it was the work of courts or legislatures, not the will of the people.

Oregon law has long prohibited same-sex marriage, and voters added the ban to the state constitution in 2004. The decision, approved by 57 percent of voters, came months after Multnomah County briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Multnomah is the state's largest county and includes Portland.

About 3,000 gay couples were allowed to marry before a judge halted the practice. The Oregon Supreme Court later invalidated the marriages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report