A federal judge on Wednesday struck down Montana’s ban on gay marriage, ruling the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. District Judge Brian Morris, mirroring recent federal rulings elsewhere, found the state’s marriage restrictions violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Unlike previous rulings, Morris did not stay his injunction, meaning gay couples are free to marry effective immediately.
“Montana Gov. [Democrat] Steve Bullock said in a statement he has instructed his administration to quickly take the appropriate steps to ensure legally married same-sex couples are recognized and afforded the same rights and responsibilities that married Montanans enjoy,” the Associated Press reports. Montana state Attorney General Tim Fox, however, said his office will appeal the decision.
The court’s ruling comes as part of a wave of federal court decisions overruling same-sex marriage bans. The 9th Circuit had already overturned similar statutes in Nevada and Idaho. The exception to the legal trend is a recent decision by the 6th Circuit. “That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backing four states’ bans created a split within the courts, increasing the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states can ban gay marriage,” Reuters reports.
“Before Wednesday, same-sex couples could marry in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri, and the District of Columbia,” according to the AP.