PORTLAND -- U.S. District Judge Michael McShane has ruled that Oregon's voter-approved ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
In his ruling, McShane states: No legitimate state purpose justifies the preclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage.
Same-sex couples were already lined up Monday morning, awaiting the historic decision, and began getting marriage licenses immediately, amid cheers.
This is a major step for Oregon and our constant struggle to live up to our ideals of freedom and equality for all. Every Oregonian will now have the right to make a legal commitment to the person that they love, Governor John Kitzhaber said after the landmark decision. I want to congratulate all those who worked so hard and for so long to make this day a reality. Our work is not done, but today is a day to celebrate!
The governor also promised that he'll work to ensure the process is smooth for all those who have been waiting for so many years for this day to come.
Here is an excerpt from Judge McShane s opinion:
The court finds that there is no legitimate state interest that would justify the denial of the full and equal recognition, attendant rights, benefits, protections, privileges, obligations, responsibilities, and immunities of marriage to same-gender couples solely on the basis that those couples are of the same gender.
Today Judge McShane did the right thing for families, affirming that the denial of marriage to committed same-sex couples in Oregon is unconstitutional. In recognition of the strong support for marriage among Oregonians, no one with legal standing, including our state Attorney General, wanted to go down in history as defending discrimination, said Thalia Zepatos, director of public engagement at Freedom to Marry.
Photos: Reaction to gay marriage ruling
Late Monday morning, an appeals court denied a request for an emergency stay that could have blocked McShane's ruling.
The state attorney general had refused to defend the ban in lawsuits brought by four same-sex couples.
Oregon marriage laws challenged
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.
Last week, McShane denied the National Organization for Marriage's request to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oregon s gay marriage ban after the state s attorney general refused to defend the public in the case.
In February, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she would not defend the state against the federal suit, saying that the state s ban was indefensible.
Gay rights groups previously said they've collected enough signatures to force a statewide vote on gay marriage in November. But they said they would discard the signatures and drop their campaign if the court rules in their favor by May 23.
The 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.
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.
About 3,000 gay couples were allowed to marry before a judge halted the practice. The Oregon Supreme Court later invalidated the marriages.