LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- A federal judge in Kentucky struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on Tuesday, though the ruling was temporarily put on hold and it was not immediately clear when same-sex couples could be issued marriage licenses.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville concluded that the state's prohibition on same-sex couples being wed violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating gay couples differently than straight couples.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the Washington capital district, following an impressive legal winning streak for proponents since the Supreme Court last year struck down the Clinton-era federal Defense of Marriage Act.
A CBS News/New York Times poll taken in February showed more than half - 56 percent - the country backs legalizing same-sex marriage. The issue of whether a state can ban it is expected to eventually reach the high court.
Heyburn previously struck down Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and countries, but he put the implementation of that ruling on hold. That decision did not deal with whether Kentucky would have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Instead, Tuesday's ruling dealt directly with that question.
Heyburn noted that every federal court to consider a same-sex marriage ban has found it unconstitutional. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments on rulings from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee in a single session, on Aug. 6. Although the cases are unique, each deals with whether statewide gay marriage bans violate the Constitution.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said the state will appeal the decision.
"Sometimes, by upholding equal rights for a few, courts necessarily must require others to forebear some prior conduct or restrain some personal instinct," Heyburn wrote. "Here, that would not seem to be the case. Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree."
Last week, a federal appeals court for the first time upheld that a ruling that overturned a state's same-sex marriage ban. The state of Utah plans to appeal the appellate court's ruling.
Utah has become one of the focal points for the gay marriage movement, and an international conservative group that opposes homosexuality is planning its first worldwide conference in the predominantly Mormon state next year. The four-day gathering of the Illinois-based World Congress of Families follows previous world conferences were in Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Mexico City, Geneva and Prague.
The World Congress of Families promotes what it calls the "natural human family," which it believes consists of a man and woman raising children with love and discipline.
The organization had to cancel this year's international conference in Moscow due to turmoil related to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The World Congress of Families chose Salt Lake City for its October 2015 gathering because it has many good partner organizations in Utah, spokesman Don Feder said. The Sutherland Institute is leading the planning for the event, which is expected to draw about 3,000 people.
The Human Rights Campaign, which supports gay rights and gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of the organization. Ty Cobb, the Human Rights Campaign's director of global engagement, said the World Congress of Families is a network of extremist groups that has been working to promote anti-LGBT rhetoric and legislation abroad including in Russia and several African countries. Cobb called Salt Lake City a strange choice for the worldwide conference.