By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington
As arguments rage over the issue of gay marriage, BBC News talks to people caught up in one of the United States' most divisive social battles.
Mary Li (right) says same-sex marriage is the civil rights issue of her time
Mary Li and Rebecca Kennedy were the first lesbian couple to get married in Oregon, in March 2004, but a shadow hung over them even as they exchanged vows.
Earlier this month - "after a year of living like a normal family" - the state's Supreme Court annulled their union and more than 3,000 others, in a case that sent a signal across the US.
The couple know they are on the front line of a political struggle, but it has not stopped them feeling the powerful emotional impact of the decision.
"I felt that as a lesbian I was never going to have the white dress, the walk up the aisle," said Li. "So when the chance came I seized it with both hands.
"But there is a great sadness that the day has been taken away."
Two weeks before their wedding at a luxury hotel in Portland, the couple had been tipped off that their local county was about to start marrying gays and lesbians.
The move came hot on the heels of similar weddings in San Francisco, later halted by the state of California.
Sworn to secrecy, Li and Kennedy could not even tell their families in case the news leaked to opponents.
"We knew there were politics attached to it, but we certainly got married as a reflection of our love for each other," said Li.
Critics on the right fear traditional marriage is threatened
"Becky and I had already been engaged for two years, and when people ask me when I decided to marry - I say I had been waiting all my life."
"We were both emotionally preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best."
When the day came they found their wedding besieged by reporters, but the ceremony - led by former Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts - was able to proceed.
Their joy was inevitably short-lived, Li said.
A coalition of groups challenged the decision and on 14 April 2005 the state Supreme Court nullified nearly 3,000 marriages, saying a county could not go against state matrimonial law.
Fight goes on
Gay and lesbian rights groups are fighting similar battles across the US.
But polling suggests that while many Americans are open to civil rights for gay couples, they still reserve "marriage" for male-female relationships.
Same-sex couples can legally marry in Massachusetts, but 37 other states and the federal government have approved laws or amendments barring the recognition of gay marriage.
President George W Bush has voiced support for a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, and referred to the need to protect the institution of marriage in his State of the Union speech.
But for couples like Mary and Becky, the fight goes on.
Li said: "I am a mixed race person - and my parents married before the courts across America had struck down all the remaining barriers to mixed race couples. Today, no-one would deny mixed race couples the right to marry.
"Same sex marriage is the civil rights issue of our time.
"It is like a patchwork of permissiveness and opposition - at some point you reach a critical mass."
People who reject same sex marriage fear an erosion of heterosexual relationships. However, insecurity is not a valid reason to prevent couples gaining the rights that heterosexual people enjoy. There is no moral issue here; mankind has and continues to put words into God's mouth to voice their insecurities, and it is time they accepted other humans' civil rights, ie where everyone can enjoy the benefits in which others currently hold a monopoly. We live in the real world, not in their belief system.
If God had intended for same sex marriage, He would have created two Adams. God's order to Adam and his wife was "Be fruitful and multiply". How can same sex marriage fulfil this requirement of God? Same sex marriage is an abuse and misuse of God's creation.
Ken Kesse, Kumasi, Ghana
Being gay and living in one of the two countries that have approved gay marriage I follow the debate with considerable interest. In Belgium a long (serene) debate in the parliament across political parties finally resulted in the conclusion that anything other than opening marriage to gay people would represent a discrimination. Even with civil unions providing the most ample set of rights to gay people, the fact of distinguishing on the basis of the gender combination in allowing marriage or not implies a difference in the perception of a relationship and a qualitative moral judgement. Therefore the parliament decided that there was only one way to stop discrimination and that was through opening marriage to all gender combinations of its citizens. I'm very proud of being part of this country.
Marc Antoon, Leuven, Belgium
Only people who are truly insecure with their own faith and beliefs feel threatened by others believing or doing differently. I have my own faith and ideas, I feel very secure with them, and so why should I care what others do, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone?
Anje, Cologne Germany
As a male, twice divorced; for all the religous overtone cast upon it, marriage and the civil rights attached to it have more to do with property rights then with the moral fabric of society. If two people love, create a household, contribute to society, and succeed at a life long commitment - more power to them. We are all God's creatures for those who live a spiritual life and we are all equal for those who live a secular life.
Peter, Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Marriage is a right that any couple should enjoy, not just heterosexual ones. Gay and transgendered people have the same feelings and needs as anyone else, and the ability to express their love and commitment in a public and legal manner is very important. It seems crazy to me that governments across the world have problems with this. What are they so afraid of? What are the far right so afraid of - that gay people will take over the world if given basic equal rights?
Vanessa Ireland, Tasmania
As long as governments allow male female marriage outside of the church, it is discriminatory and hypocritical to legislate against same sex marriage. If the religious right wants to protect the sanctity of marriage in a religious sense, then non-religious marriage should be given the same status as same sex couples who wish to marry. At the end of the day, this "sanctity of marriage" argument is just another way of legal discrimination.
John (US ex-pat), Dublin, Ireland
Gay couples have been able to marry for some time now in The Netherlands. So far, our society has not collapsed, nor have heterosexuals stopped marrying.
Pieter de Best, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
If a couple want to have a union via a civil service, then I don't have a problem. At least then they would be able to obtain the same civil rights. However, I do have a problem when the couples want to exchange vows in church. Like it or loath it, God expressly forbid the union of same sex couples, and was not part of his grand plan. Yes, we are all sinful by nature, but to imply that God would want to bless sin is diabolical!
Steven Douglas, Scotland
My partner and I have been engaged for two years now, together for five, we want to be able to have the same rights legally as everyone else. But we don't want a "Civil Union", we want a Marriage. Saying, you can have a Civil Union but you can't have a Marriage is basically telling us that "You can be like us, but you can't have the same things as us." It is not equality to force us to do different things, that is division.
Michael Grant, Calgary, Alberta (Welsh Ex-Pat)
I think same sex marriages are wrong and unnatural. However, nowadays most people are not interested in doing the right thing but rather following general/majority consensus which may well be wrong, and not easily corrected.
I think gay marriages should be prevented because it would mean a redefining of relationships between gender to the detriment and degradation of these relationships.
Rachel Lijofi, London, England
There are two separate questions here. The first is should the state allow same sex couple to marry. The second is should the church allow same sex couples to marry. I don't think that the church should have any say in the state's decision nor the state in the church's. Especially not in America where they claim to have a separation of church and state. I think that a civil marriage between any two people should be allowed regardless of race, gender etc. On a civil level it is a question of equal rights. The church however should have every right to say that it won't marry same sex couples in a religious ceremony and the state should have no say in the matter.
Roz, Munich, Germany (British ex-pat)
We should embrace homosexual couples, treat them with the respect they deserve as human beings, and recognize their love. Fear of the unknown and general ignorance are not valid reasons to discriminate and exclude. We are all born as equals and have the same right to pursue our happiness. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not represent an infringement of the rights of any other group or individual. Not one of the arguments I have read against same-sex marriage holds any water.
Ron, Mannheim, Germany (Scottish Ex-Pat)
This is one issue where I think "separate but equal" makes good sense. Despite my support of gay marriage, I also understand why so many people oppose it. Marriage will always be connected to faith and the Christian faith rejects homosexuality. However, polls have repeatedly shown that many of the same people who oppose gay "marriage" support civil unions. Focusing on marriage is the wrong tactic. While the majority of Americans want to deny gays the right to marry, they do not want to deny us equal rights. That is the issue. Should gay couples be given access to the same rights and privileges as straight couples? Absolutely. Do we need to call it marriage? No. Let the Christian conservatives keep marriage "pure" and "sacred." So long as I am afforded the same rights and privileges as everyone else in the country, I don't really care what they call it.
Rob Wyatt, Lake Tahoe, USA
The idea that same sex marriage is a threat to more traditional marriages makes little or no sense. It's a civil institution that gives benefits such as inheritance, visitation in hospitals, insurance and other secular issues. It shouldn't be about religion but the right for people to make decisions in their living situation.
Mike McCarrel, Portland, Oregon USA
The institution of marriage was implemented by the church to ensure there was someone to pay for the children. The focus should be about the institution of marriage itself, especially in an age where every third marriage is ending in divorce. You need to look at an alternative that would protect the rights of "couples" where one makes financial sacrifices for the other. At the end of the day it's really about "dollar and cents".
J. Baer, Switzerland
The issue of gay marriage is coming to a head here too. To me it seems bizarre that same sex couples can adopt in my country, but cannot legally marry. I personally support marriage between same sex couples. Aside from the legal implications, such as inheritance rights, marriage is a way of publicly acknowledging that two people who love each other have chosen to join their lives together and celebrating that fact with friends and family exactly as any other couple would. There is no change in the spirit of the ceremony or the intent of those involved. Many same sex couples would love to have the chance to build lives and families with their loved ones, and I have often seen as much if not more commitment between same sex couples as heterosexual couples.
Nicola Johnson, Cape Town, South Africa
Same sex marriage is a crazy idea. In any religion, this is not allowed. God created men and women to get married and have children. People who give excuses not to follow this, should ask for help rather than decided to change God's law.
Othman Aris, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur