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A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled Tuesday that the state’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage violated the federal Constitution, the latest in a string of legal victories for gay rights and one that occurred in the heart of the Bible Belt.

The state’s ban on marriage by gay and lesbian couples is “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit,” wrote Judge Terence C. Kern of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, in Tulsa, deciding a case that had languished nine years. The amendment, he said, is based on “moral disapproval” and does not advance the state’s asserted interests in promoting heterosexual marriage or the welfare of children.

The decision will not take effect immediately, and Oklahoma is almost certain to appeal, leaving prospects uncertain for gay couples in the state.

The ruling comes less than a month after a federal judge in Utah reached the same conclusion, declaring that state’s restrictive marriage amendment to be unconstitutional. Some 1,300 couples rushed to marry before Utah obtained a temporary stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, blocking further marriages while the issue is considered by a federal appeals court.

In view of the Utah ruling, Kern stayed his decision in anticipation of an appeal by Oklahoma to the same appeals court where the Utah case is being heard, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Over the past year, the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage, whether through legislative action or court order, has grown to 17, or 18 if Utah is included.