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AUSTIN, Texas A federal judge, saying he was complying with the U.S. Constitution and not trying to defy the people of Texas, struck down Texas' ban on gay marriage, but left it in place Wednesday pending a ruling by an appeals court later this year.

Judge Orlando Garcia issued his ruling in response to a challenge by two gay couples of the state's constitutional amendment and a longstanding law banning gay marriage.

Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, Garcia wrote.

Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.

Under federal court rules, a judge may suspend a law if he or she believes the plaintiffs have a strong case and will suffer if the law is enforced.

The ruling is the latest in a recent series of victories for gay rights activists.

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