A federal judge struck down Kentucky's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional on Tuesday but stayed the ruling pending appeal, in what has become a familiar two-step process.

Kentucky District Court Judge John Heyburn ruled that the state's amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.


“As this Court has respectfully explained, in America even sincere and long-held religious views do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

In 2004, Kentucky voters overwhelmingly approved of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment also held that those marriages would be the only ones recognized by the commonwealth.

In February, Heyburn also struck down the state's ban on recognizing gay marriages performed in other states. At the time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was criticized ahead of his primary for recommending Heyburn for the bench in the 1990s.

McConnell reiterated in February that he disagreed with the decision, and his office called the attack absurd. McConnell won his GOP primary easily and is facing off against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in November. Grimes has said while she personally supports gay marriage, she feels it should be left up to the states.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriage.

Appeals are working their way through the courts in nine other states where judges have struck down bans but stayed those decisions. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last month became the first appellate court to uphold a lower court's ruling striking down a state's gay marriage ban.

In his 19-page ruling Tuesday, Heyburn found that the ban on same-sex marriage was not substantially related to an important government interest, enough to invalidate the law.

Heyburn wrote that he did not go further because his “careful reading" of case law suggests the Supreme Court is unlikely to rule that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the constitution.

The judge rejected the state's arguments that banning same-sex marriage encourages and promotes procreation — an argument that has failed in other courts around the country. He also flatly rejected a "twist" to the argument, in which Kentucky argued that the ban contributes to a stable birth rate and in turn "ensures the state's long-term economic stability."

"These arguments are not those of serious people. Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why," the judge wrote in a particularly biting passage.

"The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and in ‘ensuring humanity’s continued existence’ are at best illogical and even bewildering," Heyburn wrote.

Updated at 2:10 p.m.