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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 02:48 GMT 03:48 UK
Oregon gives boost to gay couples
Gay marriage supporters
The marriage issue has stirred feelings across America
The only US jurisdiction currently to allow homosexual weddings has suspended them while equally moving to grant such unions historic legal recognition.

A circuit judge in Multnomah County, Oregon, ordered a freeze on gay marriage licenses to give the State Legislature a chance to formalise them.

Judge Frank Bearden also ordered the state to recognise the 3,022 licenses issued in the county since 3 March.

The move is a first for the entire US, where the issue has divided opinion.

An Oregon court has just taken a giant step toward making sure the state treats your marriage just like all other marriages
Roey Thorpe
Executive director of Basic Rights Oregon

"These are the first legally recognised gay marriages in the country," said Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon.

"In no other same-sex marriages that have taken place has there been a court order saying the state must recognise them."

Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, conveyed the emotional impact of the judge's ruling:

"While you already know in your hearts that you are married, an Oregon court has just taken a giant step toward making sure the state treats your marriage just like all other marriages."

Political issue

Multnomah is Oregon's most populous county, being home to the city of Portland, and was until Tuesday the only remaining part of the US where gay couples could wed after states such as California stopped issuing licenses in the face of lawsuits and protests.

However, the state of Massachusetts is set to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples next month, following a court ruling there.

Judge Bearden gave the State Legislature in Salem 90 days from the start of its next session - possibly in June - to draft a new law.

If it does not, Multnomah County may resume issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbian when the 90-day period expires.

The gay marriage issue has prompted President George W Bush to call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage in traditional terms.

"Marriage between a man and a woman is the ideal," Mr Bush said.

His main rival in this year's presidential election, the Democrats' John Kerry, has spoken out against gay marriages but supports civil unions.

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