By Laura Zuckerman


SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A federal judge who struck down Idaho's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional denied a bid by the conservative state's governor on Wednesday for a stay of the decision while Idaho pursues an appeal of the case.

The governor, Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter, called the ruling "regrettable" and vowed to petition a higher court to keep the state's gay marriage prohibition intact until the case has run its course through the judicial system.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturned Idaho's ban on same-sex matrimony on Tuesday, saying it relegated gay and lesbian couples to second-class status in violation of constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Her decision was the latest in a recent flurry of opinions by federal judges striking down restrictions on same-sex marriage in states across the country - from Utah to Virginia.

The judge ordered enforcement of the ban to end by Friday morning. In denying the governor's request for a longer stay, Dale said the state's appeal was unlikely to succeed on its merits.

"Nor does the public interest favor preserving a status quo that deprives individuals of their constitutional rights," she wrote.

Marriage rights have already been extended to gay men and lesbians in at least 17 states and the District of Columbia in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

That tally is expected to rise sharply if federal court decisions declaring bans in several states unconstitutional are upheld on appeal.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Matthew Lewis)

[Gavel via Shutterstock]