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HOUSTON — A federal judge in Texas struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday, ruling that the laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the US Constitution and handing gay rights advocates a major legal victory in one of the biggest and most conservative states in the country.

The judge wrote that the amendment to the state constitution that Texas voters approved in 2005 defining marriage as between a man and a woman — and two similar laws passed in 1997 and 2003 — denied gay couples the right to marry and demeaned their dignity “for no legitimate reason.”

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” wrote Judge Orlando L. Garcia of US District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio.

While significant, Garcia’s ruling will have no immediate effect on gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry in Texas.

The judge issued a stay on his decision while the state appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans.

Texas Democrats and supporters of gay rights praised the ruling as a milestone in homosexual equality, in a state where a law criminalizing homosexual conduct remains on the books more than a decade after the Supreme Court ruled that law was unconstitutional.

Chad Griffin, the president of the gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign, called it “a historic day in the heart of the South.”

Republicans denounced the ruling as an attempt by “an activist federal judge” to overturn the will of Texas voters. In November 2005, voters approved the amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

Proposition 2, as it was known, passed with about 76 percent of the vote.

“The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

The ruling by Garcia, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, was the latest in a series of decisions overturning bans or lifted restrictions on same-sex marriage in several states.

A federal judge overturned Virginia’s ban this month, a day after Kentucky was told to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In Oklahoma, the state’s amendment barring same-sex marriage was recently ruled unconstitutional.