Continuing a rush of rulings that have struck down marriage limits across the country, a federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," wrote Judge John Jones III of U.S. District Court.
Pennsylvania is the last of the Northeast states with a ban on same-sex marriage and, if Tuesday's ruling is not successfully challenged, it will become the 19th state to permit gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Jones did not issue a stay, writing, "By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth."
Even as Gov. Tom Corbett said he was studying the decision and considering whether to appeal it, state officials began issuing marriage licenses Tuesday afternoon to overjoyed gay couples.
Outside City Hall in Philadelphia, several hundred people gathered to celebrate the decision, waving rainbow flags and holding up placards saying "Love Wins."
In the past several months, judges have struck down marriage limits in six other states: Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and, on Monday, Oregon. Courts in several more have said that states must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside their borders.