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Judge Strikes Down Montana’s Gay Marriage Ban

A federal judge struck down Montana’s gay marriage ban on Wednesday, one day after an appeals court rejected a request by South Carolina to postpone same-sex nuptials as more states allow gays and lesbians to wed.

"The court hereby declares that Montana’s laws that ban same-sex marriage ... violate plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection of the laws as guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," wrote U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris, who ordered the state to proceed with same-sex marriage and to recognize those gay weddings performed out-of-state.

Gay couples in Montana can go to their county courthouse and get married immediately, the ACLU said.

Attorney General Tim Fox filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later Wednesday. But Gov. Steve Bullock said he'd told his staff to "quickly take all appropriate steps to ensure that we are recognizing and affording the same rights and responsibilities to legally married same-sex couples that all married Montanans have long enjoyed.”

The ACLU of Montana brought the lawsuit along with other lawyers on behalf of four couples.

"This case is about equality and basic fairness," Jim Taylor, the group's legal director, said in a statement. "This ruling takes that constitutional principle of equal protection and makes it a reality in Montana."

A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday rejected South Carolina's bid to delay same-sex marriages; the state's attorney general said he would appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Montana and South Carolina decisions come nearly two weeks after the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld gay marriage bans in four Midwestern states, reversing a nationwide trend and setting up a legal conflict that could lead the Supreme Court to take up the issue. With Montana, 35 states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

What the Supreme Court's Refusal to Rule on Gay Marriage Means 2:21

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— Miranda Leitsinger