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Gay marriage advocates win another ruling

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge threw out Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban Monday, marking the 13th legal victory for gay marriage advocates since the US Supreme Court last year overturned part of a federal ban.

State officials earlier refused to defend Oregon’s voter-approved ban and said they wouldn’t appeal.

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The National Organization for Marriage sought to intervene, but both US District Judge Michael McShane in Eugene and a federal appeals court rejected its attempts to argue in favor of the ban.

Many county clerks in the state began carrying out same-sex marriages almost immediately after Monday’s ruling, as jubilant couples rushed to tie the knot.

‘‘It’s the final step to be truly a family,’’ said Patty Reagan, who waited in line in Portland to get a marriage license with her partner. ‘‘Everyone else takes for granted that they have this right.’’

McShane joins judges in seven other states who have overturned same-sex marriage bans, though appeals are underway. Lower-court judges have repeatedly cited last year’s Supreme Court ruling when striking down bans.

In a separate development Monday, a federal judge ordered Utah officials to recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages that took place in the state before the US Supreme Court issued an emergency stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in January on behalf of four couples who said Utah’s decision to freeze benefits for same-sex couples violated their rights. The couples cited concerns such as having a partner legally recognized as a child’s second parent.

The gay and lesbian couples married in Utah after a federal judge overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban Dec. 20. Those weddings came to a halt Jan. 6 when the Supreme Court granted the stay.

Utah officials argued that they had no choice but to hold off on benefits until an appeals court rules on the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

US District Judge Dale Kimball disagreed in his ruling Monday, saying Utah’s decision to freeze all benefits put the couples in an unacceptable legal limbo regarding adoptions, child care and custody, medical decisions and inheritance, among other things.

‘‘These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized,’’ Kimball wrote.

He stayed his ruling for 21 days to allow the state an opportunity to appeal the ruling to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Utah officials didn’t immediately comment.

Gay and lesbian couples can legally marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, after a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

The two most recent states to make the unions legal were New Mexico and Hawaii, both of which did so in late 2013. Oregon’s ruling is not expected to be challenged, which would make it the 18th state where gay marriage is legal.

In 11 states, federal or state judges recently have overturned same-sex marriage bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages. Appeals courts are reviewing those decisions. Ten are in the hands of federal appeals courts, and one is with a state appeals court.

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, Tennessee, and Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The New Mexico Supreme Court declared the state ban unconstitutional in a ruling that is not being challenged.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is one of seven top state prosecutors who have refused to defend same-sex marriage bans in court.

Attorney generals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Nevada, and Kentucky, all Democrats, have made the same decision. Virginia and Kentucky still appealed rulings. A county clerk who was sued in Virginia is fighting that ban, and Kentucky hired outside attorneys.

Although there are liberal voters in Portland, Eugene, and a few other college towns in Oregon, they are offset by more conservative voters in the rest of the state. When county officials in Portland began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2003, voters responded the next year by adding language to the state constitution defining marriage as a union only between a man and woman.

The Oregon Family Council released a strongly worded statement Monday saying that state officials had colluded with gay rights groups to sidestep the will of voters, and a judge allowed it.

‘‘While tonight’s newscast will feature tearful couples at staged PR activities in courthouses across the state, the real tears should be for the next generation as we witness our constitutional republic sink into a banana republic,’’ spokeswoman Teresa Harke said.

Lawsuits over the issue are pending in several other states. Of the states where same-sex marriage remains banned, lawsuits challenging those laws have been filed in all but three — Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

In the pending cases, a ruling from a federal appeals court is expected soon, either from a panel in Denver reviewing rulings from Utah and Oklahoma or judges in Richmond, Va., reviewing Virginia’s case. Many legal observers say they expect the US Supreme Court to take a case at some point, but they acknowledge it’s impossible to predict what the high court will do. The Supreme Court could also just wait and see how the nation’s appellate courts rule.

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