updated 8/26/2004 4:59:09 PM ET 2004-08-26T20:59:09

An Oregon county that stopped issuing marriage licenses until a court could decide whether gay marriage was legal has been told to again offer them to couples.

Senior Judge Wayne R. Harris ordered Benton County on Wednesday to resume issuing the licenses, saying officials had failed to provide a service. Though his order didn’t specifically mention same-sex couples, officials expect licenses only will be given to marriages between a man and a woman.

The county stopped issuing licenses in April, after the state threatened to sue if the county followed through with its decision to allow gay couples to marry. County commissioners, trying not to discriminate, decided that no one should get a license.

A couple sued the county and argued they were entitled to a marriage license as taxpayers. The county argued the couple could easily drive to a neighboring county until the gay-marriage issue was settled.

Before halting the issuance of marriage licenses, Benton County had been poised to follow Multnomah County as the state’s second county to allow gay marriage; more than 3,000 marriage licenses were issued to gay couples in Multnomah County.

In November, the Oregon Supreme Court is slated to begin deciding whether the state’s law prohibiting gay marriage is constitutional. Voters also may settle the issue since a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage is on the ballot.

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