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With judge's order, same-sex marriages now legally recognized in conservative Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A federal judge ordered officials in conservative Kentucky to immediately recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, the latest court victory for gay rights supporters in the U.S.

The Kentucky decision Thursday follows a federal judge's declaration on Wednesday that a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas is unconstitutional and similar decisions recently in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

The Kentucky ruling only requires the state to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples performed in other states or countries. It does not deal with whether the state can be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The ruling didn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which will be decided later this year. Nevertheless, it drew the anger of religious leaders who said the decision takes away Kentucky's right to determine its policies regarding marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have been emboldened by last year's landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said legally married gay couples could not be denied federal benefits. Their quick series of legal victories has come amid growing support in the U.S. for gay marriage, according to polls.

Opponents of gay marriage have been scrambling to respond.

Bills are making their way through several state legislatures, some intended to protect gay-marriage bans, others to protect individuals or businesses who, for religious reasons, don't want to serve same-sex couples.

On Wednesday, Arizona's Republican governor vetoed such a bill after pressure from gay rights supporters, some major corporations and even some national-level Republicans.

Kentucky's constitutional ban was approved by voters in 2004, amid a wave of bans passed around the United States. Kentucky's included a clause that out-of-state same-sex marriages would not be recognized.

Dawn Elliott, an attorney for a couple pursuing recognition of a marriage performed in Canada, praised the ruling.

"It's a great day to be from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Elliott said. "

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, said the office was reviewing the ruling and would have a statement later Thursday.

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