Washington's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a Thurston County judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision is the second victory for supporters of gay marriage (search) in Washington state. A King County judge ruled in favor of gay marriage rights in a separate case last month. Both cases will now go to the state Supreme Court, where they will likely be consolidated.
"For the government this is not a moral issue. It is a legal issue," wrote Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks (search) in his ruling, posted Tuesday on the court's Web site.
Hicks acknowledged that the intent of the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act was very clear: Legislators wanted to limit marriage to a union between one man and one woman. But, Hicks said, that law directly conflicts with the state constitution.
"What fails strict scrutiny here is a government-approved civil contract for one class of the community not given to another class of the community," Hicks wrote. "Democracy means people with different values living together as one people. What can reconcile our differences is the feeling that with these differences we are still one people. This is the democracy of conscience."
The plaintiffs in the Thurston County case are 11 gay and lesbian couples from across the state. An attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union (search) argued their case in court on Thursday.