A federal judge on Wednesday declared invalid Kentucky's ban on recognizing the out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

In his 23-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John C. Heyburn II declared that the laws “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

While “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons,” Heyburn wrote. “[I]t is clear that Kentucky's laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

Heyburn rejected arguments from conservatives groups who argued that the ban was needed to protect heterosexual marriages.

“[N]o one has offered any evidence that recognizing same-sex marriages will harm opposite-sex marriages,” he wrote.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, applauded the ruling.

“Today a Republican-appointed federal judge in Kentucky held – as did judges in Utah and Oklahoma weeks ago and as did the U.S. Supreme Court last year – that there is simply no legitimate justification for denying equal protection to same-sex couples, echoing the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry, including a growing number of conservatives. It is wrong for the government to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love; a freedom that is part of every American's liberty and pursuit of happiness. With one of the many cases across the country potentially making it to the Supreme Court as soon as 2015, we must continue to make the case across the country that America – all of America – is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Four gay and lesbian couples filed the lawsuit soon after the Supreme Court eviscerated the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June. The high court's majority ruled unconstitutional DOMA's provision prohibiting federal agencies from recognizing the legal marriages of gay couples. Its decision also chided lawmakers for legalizing discrimination.

Plaintiff couple Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon from Louisville, both 55, married in Canada in 2004.

“We are victims of discrimination, and that's what the lawsuit is about,” Deleon, a database administrator, told The Courier-Journal. “Not being treated equally under the law.”