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Weddings Begin As Oregon Judge Overturns Gay Marriage Ban

Same-sex couples are getting married in Oregon now that a federal judge has overturned the state's ban on gay marriage.

Shortly after noon on Monday, the news broke to crowds gathered in Portland that U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled the law violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

And not long after that, same-sex couples started getting married, including long-time partners, Eric Gates and Jose Soto, in Eugene.

Soto said after 11 years together, it felt like a dam burst.

"I didn't think it was going to happen," he said. "Eric called me from work and told me about the ruling. And we had been waiting to find out but everything keeps flip-flopping and I still can't believe it. I feel like maybe tomorrow they're going to take it back or something."

That appears unlikely. The only scenario would be if the U.S. Supreme Court issues a broad ruling allowing state gay marriage bans. At the state level, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum didn't defend the decade-old voter-approved ban. A national group's attempt to step in on the state's behalf was rejected. And the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned away a last-minute request for a stay.

Pam Irwin was still processing the news as she and her partner, Barb Bellows, picked up a marriage license at the Lane County Clerk's office.

"I keep getting chills down my back. It's just fantastic," Irwin said. "It's a long-time coming. I told her at the beginning of this year it probably won't ever happen in Oregon. So this is a nice, sweet change."

Not everyone in Oregon was happy with the ruling. The Oregon Catholic Conference issued a statement calling it a travesty of justice. And the group that helped pass the ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 called it a "tragic day for Oregonians." The Oregon Family Council called the day's events a "coordinated publicity stunt." They pointed to the fact that newly revised marriage licenses were available within minutes of the judge's ruling.

Same-sex couples got married across the state. In Salem, Jammie Russell and Michelle Hatfield left work early to pick up a license and became one of the first same-sex couples to apply to be married in Salem.

Hatfield was jubilant: "I felt strongly to want to marry my partner. And now I can. And it's beyond words. I really have no true words."

Hatfield and Russell have been together two years and are raising a son. Russell says she finally feels like a full-fledged American with equal rights.

"I thought this would be something that would happen in the next generation because they're a lot more open-minded and they're not stuck in their ways yet," she said. "But to see it in our lifetime?"

The two plan to get married by the grave of Hatfield’s mother so she can be present at least in spirit. With Judge McShane’s ruling, Oregon becomes the 18th state to allow gay marriage. Washington voters approved it two years ago. The issue is still tied up in court in several states, including Idaho. A federal judge there overturned the state's ban. But that ruling is on hold pending an appeal.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.