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Oregon's most populous county began issuing marriage s to same-sex couples here on Wednesday, becoming the latest flashpoint in the national debate over gay marriage.

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Commissioners for Multnomah County, which includes Portland, said late Tuesday that the county would begin issuing the s after a decision by County Attorney Agnes Sowle that not doing so would violate the state's Constitution.

Oregon is one of 13 states without laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and the state's Constitution is silent on the subject. Linn said. As word of the decision spread on Tuesday night, couples began lining up outside the county administration building. By 10 a. By noon, about 90 s had been issued, Ms. Linn said, and the pace continued throughout the day. Some state politicians quickly condemned the marriage rush. At a news conference, Speaker Karen Minnis, a Republican, asked the governor and attorney general, both Democrats, to take action.

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Minnis said. Kevin Neely, a spokesman for Attorney General Hardy Myers, said the attorney general had begun a review of the county's actions at the request of Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Neely said. In a public ceremony held in a downtown hotel and planned for weeks by gay rights advocates, two couples who received the first s were married by a former Oregon Supreme Court justice, Betty Roberts. Stephen Knox, of Portland, who married his partner of 10 years, Eric Warshaw, said they had been watching gay marriages take place across the country.

Knox said, ''and I'm just really honored to be a part of it. As couples lined up at the county building, gay rights groups celebrated what they called a major victory. Thorpe said she had expected such a move by the city or the county, and her organization had prepared for the rush by reserving Keller Auditorium, a large performance hall, to run a veritable production line of marriage ceremonies. Thorpe said. Inside the auditorium seven ministers were on hand to perform ceremonies while a growing of couples lined up outside and cheered. The county's decision was soundly criticized by one commission member, who said he was left out of the decision-making.

That official, Lonnie Roberts, said he was not told about the decision by the four other commissioners to begin issuing s until late Tuesday afternoon, after the others had issued a statement supporting the policy change.

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Roberts said on Tuesday night. John Belgarde, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Oregon, said his group and like-minded national organizations planned a legal challenge to the county's decision. Belgarde said.

While there is disagreement about whether state statutes expressly forbid same sex marriages, Dominick Vetir, a law professor at the University of Oregon, said he believed that state law did not disallow gay marriage. State law defined marriage as a ''civil contract entered into in person by males at least 17 years of age and females at least 17 years of age,'' Professor Vetir said.

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Tim Hibbits, a longtime Portland pollster, said that there had been no statewide polling on gay marriage, but that politicians in the Portland area were not likely to suffer. Multnomah County, which has aboutresidents, is roughly 50 percent Democratic, 20 percent Republican and 30 percent independent, he said.

Hibbits said. We're just a notch or two to the right of them. Correction: March 6,Saturday An article on Thursday about the issuance of marriage s to gay couples in Multnomah County, Ore. He is Dominick Vetri, not Vetir; and he is a supporter of gay marriage. Correction Appended Oregon's most populous county began issuing marriage s to same-sex couples here on Wednesday, becoming the latest flashpoint in the national debate over gay marriage.

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