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Happily ever after may depend on U.S. Supreme Court

Julie Englebloom and Laurie Brown of Portland exchanged vows shortly after obtaining their marriage license from Multnomah County Monday. Dressed in white, they were married in a ceremony at the Melody Ballroom in Southeast Portland, which had been reserved by same-sex marriage supporters. It was decorated for traditional wedding ceremonies in rooms on both the first and second floors.

"It's surreal. I just didn't think we'd ever be able to do this," Englebloom said shortly after being pronounced "married for life."

Brown and Englebloom had been together for 10 years, but they always worried that their relationship might not be recognized at a hospital or by the government.

"There's always been a little uncertainty, but now our love for one another has been affirmed by the community," Brown told a line of reporters and photographers who rushed up to them after the ceremony.

After U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane issued his ruling Monday stating that Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, Oregon United for Marriage leaders said they will not put an initiative to repeal the 2004 state ban on Oregon’s November ballot.

That decision came on the heels of a related decision by Friends of Religious Freedom to drop its proposed Oregon ballot measure that would grant a religious exemption to Oregon’s civil rights laws for service providers who choose not to cater, provide flowers or other services for same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies. The group decided the ballot wording approved by the Oregon Supreme Court would make it hard to pass the measure.

Two months ago, Oregonians were bracing for a major clash in the fall campaign over the two competing measures, which figured to bring a surge of social conservatives and gay-rights supporters to the polls. Now neither will appear on the ballot.

“I don’t see anything being on the ballot in November as far as marriage, at this point,” said Theresa Harke, spokeswoman for Oregon Family Council. That group led the campaign for the 2004 constitutional amendment that was overturned Monday, and was pressing for the religious exemption.

Oregon United for Marriage says it collected around 160,000 signatures on its petition to reverse the constitutional ban, well more than the 116,285 required to make the ballot. Recent polls showed 55 percent or more Oregonians now support same-sex marriage.

Initiative committee leaders decided the court ruling settled the issue, so there’s no need for a public vote.

The committee raised more than $640,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to collect the signatures. It still has approximately $27,000 in the bank that could be distributed to other causes — including Democratic candidates — in the general election.

Though public opinion on same-sex marriage has dramatically changed in Oregon and much of the nation, the issue might not be settled until there’s a definitive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

As recently as 1986, McShane wrote in his 26-page decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Georgia law making criminal sexual acts between consenting gay men and lesbian women on the basis of “a millennia of moral teaching.” The court didn’t reverse that decision until 2002.

“It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to

protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value,” McShane wrote.

“But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.”

McShane said Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage did not afford protection to children, who are already eligible to be adopted by same-sex couples.

Although no one at present has standing to appeal McShane's ruling, one or more of the similar rulings in other states is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last year, the high court let stand a decision by the California Supreme Court to overturn that state's ban on same-sex marriages, but on the basis that the case was not properly before the court. The high court, in a separate case, also overturned a section of a 1996 federal law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The court itself has not ruled on same-sex marriage.

Reporters Peter Wong and Steve Law also contributed to this story.