A judge has struck down Georgia's ban on same-sex marriages, saying the measure that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004 violated the state constitution's single-subject rule for ballot questions.

"Procedural safeguards such as the single-subject rule rarely enjoy public support," Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell wrote. "But, ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties, because they ensure that the actions of government are constrained by the rule of law."

Activists had long awaited Russell's ruling in their court challenge, which was originally filed in November 2004, soon after the constitutional ban was approved in that year's general election.

"It's a victory for voters," said Jack Senterfitt, who challenged the amendment on behalf of gay rights organization Lambda Legal. "Ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties. And the reason it's a victory for voters is that it protects the right of voters to make independent decisions on each independent issue."

Governor Sonny Perdue said he was disappointed by the decision, which he said ran contrary to the voice of Georgia voters in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"The people of Georgia knew exactly what they were doing when an overwhelming 76 percent voted in support of this constitutional amendment," he said. "It is sad that a single judge has chosen to reverse this decision."

Perdue said the state is considering appealing the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

In her ruling, Russell said before the state's voters can be asked to decide whether same-sex marriages should be banned, they must first decide whether same-sex relationships should have any legal status before the law.

"People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place — although not marriage," she wrote. "The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote."