The United Church of Christ (UCC) on Friday cheered a federal judge's ruling striking down North Carolina's ban on gay marriage.

Four days after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in a case from the Fourth Circuit striking down Virginia's ban, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said that the case had created “settled law” in the circuit and that North Carolina's ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Cleveland, Ohio-based UCC filed the lawsuit in which Cogburn ruled. The church 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.

“Of the three marriage equality cases pending in North Carolina, it is the landmark case about religious freedom and marriage equality that has finally struck down North Carolina's unconstitutional marriage laws,” said UCC General Counsel Donald C. Clark.

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a UCC national officer, called the ruling a “clear victory for both religious freedom and marriage equality.”

“In lifting North Carolina's ban on same-gender marriage, the court's directive makes it plain that First Amendment arguments, made by the UCC and our fellow plaintiffs, were both persuasive and spot-on. Any law that threatens clergy who choose to solemnize a union of same-sex couples, and threatens them with civil or criminal penalties, is unconstitutional.”

In his 3-page opinion, Cogburn recognized the case's implications on religious freedom. “It is clear … that North Carolina's laws … threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional,” he wrote.

Gay couples began exchanging vows in North Carolina moments after Cogburn released his ruling.

(Related: Church helps topple North Carolina's gay marriage ban.)