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Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday, calling part of a state ban unconstitutional for denying gays and lesbians equal protection under the law.

The state’s law banning state marriage, he said, treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

In a 23-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II concluded that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it, but cannot "impose a traditional or faith-based limitation" without a sufficient justification for it."

"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," Heyburn wrote.

The decision came in lawsuits brought by three gay couples and one lesbian couple seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

Among them was Gregory Bourke, a 55-year-old Louisville, Ky., man who has been in a relationship with his partner Michael Deleon for 31 years. The couple was married in Canada in 2004 and have two teenaged children.

"The word was it could happen any time and I wasn't prepared for it," Bourke told The Associated Press. "It's what we hoped for."

Heyburn’s ruling made Kentucky one of 10 states where state or federal judges have issued similar rulings about same-sex marriage bans.

The ruling drew swift reaction from religious leaders, with Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention, called the ruling "tragic and disappointing."

Meanwhie, in Texas, two homosexual couples challenging a ban on same-sex marriage will took their case to federal court.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia was expected to decide Wednesday whether to temporarily block the law until a trial can be held in the couples' case.

But Garcia did not immediately rule or give an indication when he might release a written decision but predicted this case, or one of 22 similar ones in other states, "will make its way to the Supreme Court."

—The Associated Press