The official in charge of issuing marriage licenses in Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, says he is exploring options to grant marriages to same-sex couples, after the city's mayor, Richard Daley, indicated he would "have no problem" with such a move.

The official, Cook County Clerk David Orr, says he is open to the idea of granting same-sex marriage licenses, but only if a consensus can be built between Mayor Daley, city and county government and gay advocacy groups.

Mr. Orr says he is "fed up with people being discriminated against, because of their sexual orientation." The Cook County clerk acknowledges that granting same-sex marriage licenses would violate Illinois law, and says he would have to move cautiously because of that.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley opened the way for the possible action by saying he would not object to it. He says homosexual and lesbian couples deserve the right to legal status.

"In the long run, I think, we have to understand what they are saying," he said. "They love each other just as much as anyone else. They believe that the benefits they do not have, they should have."

Opponents of same-sex marriages argue that it violates the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Mayor Daley says that was undermined long ago by the high divorce rate in the United States.

Illinois is one of 38 states that bar same-sex marriages. Some states have passed laws allowing either marriage or civil unions by same-sex couples. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled that the state constitution allows gay marriage.

The issue has been brought to the forefront in the past week by the issuance of around 3,000 same-sex marriage licenses in the city of San Francisco.

The mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, says the defiance of state law is justified, because the state constitution demands that all citizens be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation. Legal experts, however, say it is unusual for an elected official to take such a stand, without the issue first going to court.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he opposes the same-sex unions and has urged a quick resolution by the courts. Conservative groups have filed two court actions to stop the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, but swift action by the courts seems unlikely.

President Bush says he is "troubled" by San Francisco's issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, reiterating his belief that marriage can only join a man and a woman.