A U.S. federal judge on Thursday ordered Kentucky to recognize the legal same-sex marriages of residents who wed outside the state, the office of the state attorney general said.
The decision is the latest in a string of rulings that expand gay rights following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits, striking down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II's decision makes official a February 12 ruling where he said forbidding recognition of the marriages violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples to equal protection under the law.
Four Kentucky same-sex couples married out of state had challenged a state law that declared such marriages void and the attendant rights unenforceable. The couples, who were legally wed in Iowa, California, Connecticut and Canada, did not challenge a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Kentucky had argued its policies were rationally related to a legitimate government interest in preserving traditional marriage.
In all, 17 states plus the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, including eight states where it became legal in 2013.