A federal judge struck down Alabama's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional on Friday, clearing the way for the conservative Southern state to become the 37th U.S. state where gay marriage is legal.
Because U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade did not place a stay on her ruling, same-sex couples could be eligible to apply for marriage licenses when clerk's offices open, which gay rights advocates said could be as soon as Saturday.
Granade, an appointee of President George W. Bush, found that the ban does not further Alabama's goal of protecting the ties between children and their biological parents, and that it is harmful to the children of same-sex parents.
"Those children currently being raised by same-sex parents in Alabama are just as worthy of protection and recognition by the state as are the children being raised by opposite-sex parents," she wrote.
The ruling comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether states can ban gay marriage. The Supreme Court's ruling, which will stem from cases concerning marriage restrictions in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, is due by the end of June.
The Alabama Attorney General's Office said in a statement that it plans to ask to have Granade's ruling put on hold pending the Supreme Court's decision.
The case was brought by a lesbian couple legally married in California. The couple, Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, sought for Searcy to be able to adopt McKeand's biological son under a provision of Alabama law allowing for the adoption of a "spouse's child."
They lost their case in an Alabama probate court and a state appeals court before going to federal court.
Gay rights advocates hailed the decision.
"Judge Granade's ruling today affirms what we already know to be true - that all loving, committed Alabama couples should have the right to marry," said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's office expressed disappointment with the ruling.
"The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman," Jennifer Ardis, Bentley's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "The governor is disappointed with the ruling today, and we will review the decision to decide the next steps."