CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports the growing legal battle over gay marriage may come down to a fight over states rights and interpretations of 50 different state constitutions.
Gay and lesbian couples started tying the knot in Portland on Wednesday after the county issued same-sex marriage licenses, joining the rapidly spreading national movement from San Francisco and upstate New York.
More than 150 people lined up for a sudden chance to wed after a Multnomah County commissioner said she would begin issuing the licenses to same-sex couples.
An ebullient Mary Li held up the very first certificate — showing her and her partner's name under the Oregon seal.
"I can't describe how great it feels," Li said. She and her partner Rebecca Kennedy were also the first to be married, by a county judge.
Gay bar owners handed out free glasses of champagne and many couples carried bouquets of roses.
Saying same-sex marriages are likely to spread across America like a "wildfire," Republican senators, including Majority Leader Bill Frist, exhorted Congress Wednesday to embrace a constitutional amendment banning them.
"We simply will not let activist judges redefine that definition of marriage," the Tennessee Republican said to a gathering of anti-gay marriage activists. "We will not let activist judges redefine — I would say radically redefine — what marriage is, and that is a union between a man and a woman."
The issue of gay marriage has raced into the national spotlight in a matter of weeks. The Massachusetts high court permitted same-sex marriages, the city of San Francisco began conducting such marriages, other cities and counties followed suit, and President Bush called for a constitutional ban.
"Same sex marriage is likely to spread through all 50 states in the coming years," Frist said. "It is becoming increasingly clear that Congress must act."
Most Americans are opposed to gay marriage. A CBS News poll conducted immediately after Mr. Bush endorsed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, 59 percent of Americans said they would favor an amendment to the Constitution that would "allow marriage only between a man and a woman," up slightly from 55 percent last December.
New York's attorney general joined the national debate, saying current law prohibits same-sex weddings but that he would leave it to the courts to decide if the law is constitutional.
"I personally would like to see the law changed, but must respect the law as it now stands," Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.
Both sides of the polarizing issue have been waiting for Spitzer's opinion since Friday, when the mayor of New Paltz, a college town 75 miles north of Manhattan, married 25 same-sex couples without licenses. Village Mayor Jason West now faces 19 criminal counts and could face jail time. He pleaded innocent Wednesday night.
On Wednesday, Nyack, N.Y., Mayor John Shields said he would also start marrying gay couples and planned to seek a license himself to marry his same-sex partner.
However, Spitzer said Wednesday that New York's law contains references to "bride and groom" and "husband and wife" and does not authorize same-sex marriage.
Spitzer last week refused a request from the state health department for an injunction stopping the weddings. Gov. George Pataki has said that performing gay marriages is illegal, and affirmed that position on Wednesday.
"Marriage under New York State law is and has been for over 200 years between a man and a woman. And we have to uphold that law," he said.
Shields and West said they would go ahead with their plans.
"What do you do when you're faced with injustice?" Shields said. "What did the women do in the suffrage movement? They marched. They were arrested. They did what they had to do to get their rights."
Said West: "The constitution is clear that I cannot discriminate in who I marry."
The city government continued issuing licenses and marrying couples, pending a hearing before the California Supreme Court on an injunction to stop the marriages.
Half a dozen gay couples were turned down for a marriage license in Detroit. Instead of licenses, they were offered copies of the state law that outlaws same-sex marriage.
The couples were among about 60 gays, lesbians and supporters who rallied in Detroit. They protested President Bush's support of a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriages -- and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's televised statements opposing gay marriage.
A spokesman for a Detroit-area gay rights group says the applicants didn't really expect to get marriage licenses. But he says the demonstration showed how real people are being "marginalized and demonized" in the debate.
Same-sex marriages have the approval of the state's highest court but the state-sanctioned marriages are not expected to start until May.