PORTLAND, Ore. -- Every morning before she headed out into the world, Evelyn Hall took off her gold ring and placed it on the kitchen counter. When she returned at night, she slipped it back on.
Last year, she put it on for good when she married the woman who relatives had assumed was her roommate, revealing the secret life the two had for 46 years.
A total of 2,968 couples wed in Oregon when the state's most populous county began issuing same-sex marriage licenses a year ago yesterday. Every one of those marriages is now in legal limbo, but gay couples say their legally hazy unions are nonetheless a giant leap forward.
''It was like an out-of-slavery experience. I know it sounds crazy, but we were so closeted," said Mary Beth Brindley, 65, who ran away from home to be with Hall, now 66, when she was 19. ''It's a total relief not to have to lie anymore."
Same-sex weddings swept the country from coast to coast starting in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the city's wedding registry to gay couples. The movement jumped to Oregon in March, then New Mexico and New Paltz, N.Y. By May, thousands of same-sex couples were on their way to tying the knot in Massachusetts following a ruling by the state's high court legalizing gay marriages.
Then the backlash set in.
Last November, voters in Oregon and 10 other states passed ballot measures banning gay marriage. Voters in two other states, Missouri and Louisiana, banned gay marriages earlier in 2004.
In Oregon and California, lawsuits are wending their way through the state's legal machinery to determine the legal status of some 7,000 certificates issued to same-sex couples in the two states.
And while an effort to pass a federal ban on same-sex marriage failed in the Senate last year, supporters say they will try again in the new Congress.
Opponents of same-sex marriage point to these and other successes to say they are winning the battle over the definition of marriage. They say gay and lesbian couples are living in a fantasy world, pretending to be married when neither state nor federal law has sanctioned their unions.
''They're basically lying to themselves," said Tim Nashif of the Oregon-based Defense of Marriage Coalition, which backed the ballot measure banning gay marriage.
Gay advocates contend that time is on their side. ''It's a case of two steps forward for every one step back, which means we're still one step ahead," said Rebekah Kassell, spokeswoman for Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading gay rights group.
Brindley and Hall cherish their marriage certificate.
''I don't care what 'pending' box they put our marriage in," Brindley said. The certificate, she said, ''means our relationship has a validation it didn't have before."