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Gay couple ties knot in Maine for first time

(CNN) — A chorus of whoops and cheers greeted Steven Bridges and Michael Snell as they exited City Hall in Portland, Maine, early Saturday as the first same-sex couple to wed under a new law.

Supporters of the law allowing same-sex marriage — passed by a referendum in November — jumped up and down, flashed their cameras and sang the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

“It’s very surreal still,” Snell said.

The couple did not know they would be the first to take advantage of the new law.

“We finally feel equal, and happy to live in Maine,” Bridges said.

Same-sex marriage rights have been denied in many states in the past, but last month, voters in Maine, Washington and Maryland decided to change that.

The Maine measure states that men and women, “relating to the marital relationship or familial relationships must be construed to be gender-neutral for all purposes.”

The measure also mentions the right of clergy to refuse to wed gay and lesbian couples if it goes against their religious convictions.

The governments of Maine and Maryland had passed laws permitting same-sex marriage, but activists opposed to the laws collected enough signatures to put them on November’s ballot.

In 2009, a similar referendum in Maine failed when voters rejected the governor’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. This year’s results represent a remarkable turnaround.

A similar scene of jubilation took place in Seattle this month, when same-sex couples were able to exchange vows for the first time.

Newly married same-sex couples in these three states have expressed hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue rulings favorable to their marriages.

This month, the justices said they would hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed.

Oral arguments will probably be held in March, with a ruling by late June.

One appeal to be heard involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their own states.

The second is a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved measure that took away a right of same-sex marriage that had been approved by the state’s courts.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Phil Gast contributed to this report.