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Judge strikes down Kentucky ban on out-of-state gay marriages

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal judge ruled today that Kentucky must respect marriages of gay and lesbian couples legally performed in other states.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II -- appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1992 on the recommendation of current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- announced his decision today.

Heyburn ruled that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. He is the 10th federal or state judge to invalidate the discriminatory bans on marriage equality.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said he was pleased by the ruling.

"Today a Republican-appointed federal judge in Kentucky held – as did judges in Utah and Oklahoma weeks ago and as did the U.S. Supreme Court last year – that there is simply no legitimate justification for denying equal protection to same-sex couples, echoing the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry, including a growing number of conservatives," Wolfson said.

"It is wrong for the government to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love; a freedom that is part of every American's liberty and pursuit of happiness. With one of the many cases across the country potentially making it to the Supreme Court as soon as 2015, we must continue to make the case across the country that America -- all of America -- is ready for the freedom to marry."

Four gay and lesbian couples had sued the commonwealth of Kentucky, and Judge Heyburn heard the case. In his ruling, Heyburn said that while “religious beliefs ... are vital to the fabric of society ... assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons. ... “it is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

Like the other judges, Heyburn cited last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, as he axed Kentucky's portion of the state law that limits marriage to "one man and one woman."

Heyburn, however, did not rule that Kentucky must allow marriage equality in the commonwealth.