LOS ANGELES - A US federal court swept away bans on same-sex marriage in up to five more US states Tuesday, bringing the number where gay weddings are permissible or likely soon will be to 35.
In the second piece of good news for same-sex marriage supporters in as many days, the appeals court handed down rulings covering Nevada and Idaho, but likely to also cover Alaska, Arizona and Montana which are under its jurisdiction.
Gay rights campaigners welcomed the ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.
"At the end of the day, it shouldn't matter what state you call home," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). "All Americans deserve the right to marry the person they love.
In its ruling, a three-judge panel said: "Intentional discrimination on the basis of gender by state actors violates the Equal Protection Clause.
"Idaho and Nevada's same-sex marriage proscriptions are sex based, and these bans do serve to preserve 'invidious, archaic, and overbroad stereotypes' concerning gender roles," it noted.
"The bans therefore must fail as impermissible gender discrimination," added the ruling, by a three-judge panel.
Marriage-rights activists encouraged
Though Alaska, Arizona and Montana are not directly covered by Tuesday's ruling, all three have same-sex marriage bans in place and lie within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Same-sex marriage campaigners said the ruling meant that 64 per cent of Americans now live in states where gay couples can marry or will soon be able to.
"We hope that the other federal appellate courts will move swiftly to end the disparity and unfair denial that too many loving and committed couples in the 15 remaining states endure," said Evan Wolfson, head of Freedom to Marry.
The HRC's Warbelow added: "Today's ruling .. affirms that the US Constitution doesn't allow for states to pick and choose which of its citizens are entitled to certain rights, and which are not." The latest ruling came a day after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider - for now - a nationwide ruling on the divisive issue.
Another day, another ruling
In a surprise move, the top US court snubbed appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin where state-level bans on gay marriage had been deemed unconstitutional.
Marriages in those five states had been on hold pending the court's decision on whether to hear the cases. Campaigners said the ruling meant that same-sex couples in the five states will soon be able to legally marry.
Nineteen US states and the District of Columbia already recognise marriage equality, after the Supreme Court last year ruled that under federal law, wedded same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights and privileges as heterosexual ones.
Speaking after Tuesday's ruling, US Senate majority leader and Nevada state senator Harry Reid said: "This is a good day for Nevada as today's decision puts us on the side of equality and the right side of history.
"As we move forward in Nevada, let us also continue to work to ensure the same rights are extended in the states that still deny gay and lesbian couples this right. We have much work to do to achieve this goal," he added.