A federal judge on Friday struck down North Carolina's ban on gay marriage.

In his three-page decision issued shortly after 5 PM, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said the state's ban, known as Amendment One and approved by voters in 2012, is unconstitutional. Cogburn cited the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling striking down Virginia's ban.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the case challenging Virginia's ban, allowing the lower court's order to stand. The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction over Virginia and North Carolina. South Carolina and West Virginia are similarly affected.

“The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue,” Cogburn wrote. “It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

Dozens of gay couples who had gathered at clerks' offices in anticipation of a ruling began exchanging vows moments after Cogburn ruled.

The first couple to get hitched in Buncombe County were Amy Cantrell, 42, and Lauren White, 29 (pictured). The women, together 8 years, are raising 8-month-old twins Myla and Eleecia.

“We've been waiting for this day for years,” Cantrell said.

Cogburn denied a request by GOP leaders at the state legislature to intervene in the case.

Governor Pat McCrory's office said late Friday that his administration would comply with the order.

The Cleveland, Ohio-based United Church of Christ (UCC) filed the lawsuit in which Cogburn ruled in March.

The plaintiffs, which also include several gay couples who wish to marry, argued that the state's ban violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is the only case challenging state marriage bans to bring First Amendment religious freedom claims.