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2d Ore. county to issue licenses

Commissioners cite last week's opinion by AG on marriages

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Benton County will become the second county in Oregon to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, County Commissioner Linda Modrell said yesterday.

The county, home to Oregon State University, follows in the footsteps of Multnomah County, the state's most populous, which has issued more than 2,200 licenses to gay couples since March 3.

Licenses will be available in Benton County starting on March 24 at 9 a.m., Modrell said.

The motion was passed by county commissioners by a 2-to-1 vote, with Modrell and Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo voting in favor, and Commissioner Jay Dixon voting against it.

Modrell said the decision was partly based on a nonbinding opinion issued last week by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, who said a ban on gay marriage probably violates Oregon's constitution, although existing state law also prohibits the practice.

Governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, had urged other counties not to follow in Multnomah County's lead.

The issue, legal observers have said, is likely to wind up being decided by the state's highest court.

San Francisco started issuing same-sex licenses about a month ago, but the California Supreme Court ordered a halt to the licenses last week. Officials in communities in New York and New Jersey were also ordered to stop.

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