Federal judge strikes down Arizona's ban on same-sex marriage
Gay couple holding hands, wearing a wedding ring (Shutterstock)

A federal judge has struck down Arizona's ban on gay marriage, declaring it unconstitutional in a move that marks the latest in a series of victories for supporters of same-sex matrimony in America, court papers showed on Friday.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick, in a ruling made public on Friday, wrote that Arizona restrictions on gay marriage were "unconstitutional by virtue of the fact that they deny same-sex couples the equal protection of the law."

Sedwick declined to stay the ruling pending appeal, meaning gay and lesbian couples in Arizona may be able to swiftly apply for marriage licenses on Friday if the judge's ruling is not put on hold by a higher court.

The decision is expected to bring to 30 the number of states that allow gay marriage, following a string of court decisions favoring such unions in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court surprised observers by leaving intact lower court rulings that struck down gay marriage in five states. A day later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Arizona, found gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were unconstitutional.

Arizona lawmakers barred gay marriage in 1996 and later bolstered the restriction by defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which voters inscribed in the state constitution in 2008 when they approved a ballot measure to that effect.

(Reporting by David Schwartz, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston