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 U.S. 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.
The National Organization for Marriage sought to intervene, but both U.S. 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 partner Kelly. "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.
Here's a closer look at where things stand across the country:
Q. How many states allow same-sex marriage?
A. Gay and lesbian couples can legally marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia. 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.
Q. Is gay marriage getting close to becoming legal in other states?
A. 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.
Q. Where have other pro-gay marriage rulings come down?
A. They've been all over the country. 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.
Q. Is Oregon's attorney general the only one not defending a state ban?
A. No. 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 Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, 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.
Q. Since Oregon is known as a progressive state, why didn't this happen sooner?
A. Liberal voters in Portland, Eugene and a few other college towns are balanced 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.
Q. What do opponents say?
A. Opposition remains stiff in many places, with critics pointing out that most states still prohibit gay marriage. The Oregon Family Council released a strongly worded statement Monday saying the state 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.
Q. Do other states have pending lawsuits?
A. Yes. 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.
Q. What's next?
A. 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, Virginia, reviewing Virginia's case. Many legal observers say they expect the U.S. 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. It often waits until there is a conflict between appellate courts before taking a case.