Oregon may soon be forced to officially recognize the more than 3,000 same-sex marriage (search) licenses issued this spring in Multnomah County (search), after the Oregon Court of Appeals on Friday refused to order a hold on registering the licenses.

State recognition of the licenses would presumably entitle gay couples to the same state benefits accorded to heterosexual married couples, from taxes to legal protections.

Kevin Neely, a spokesman for Attorney General Hardy Myers, said that the state might try to avert that though, by quickly appealing the appeals court decision to the state Supreme Court.

A Multnomah County judge had halted any future marriages in April while a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality is pending.

But in the same ruling, Circuit Judge Frank Bearden did direct the state to officially register the licenses from ceremonies already performed, making him the first judge in the nation to recognize the legal validity of gay marriage.

The state had asked the appeals court to halt that decision, but the appeals court turned them down Friday.

Basic Rights Oregon (search), the state's leading gay rights group, applauded the appeals court's action.

"These couples have already done what any other couple seeking to marry has already done to marry in the state of Oregon. It's only fair that the state register those marriages — and that they are afforded the same protections and responsibilities of marriage that any other Oregon couple is afforded," said Rebekah Kassell, spokeswoman for Basic Rights Oregon.

But Tim Nashif, a spokesman for the Defense of Marriage Coalition (search), the group that has led the fight against gay marriage, said that the appeals court decision doesn't necessarily mean immediate state recognition of the gay marriage licenses.

""We don't want to comment on this until we know what it all means. It may not necessarily mean that the licenses will be registered tomorrow," Nashif said.