Updated: 11:00 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge in North Carolina struck down the state’s gay marriage ban Friday, opening the way for the first same-sex weddings in the state to begin immediately.
U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., in Asheville issued a ruling shortly after 5 p.m. declaring the ban approved by state voters in 2012 unconstitutional.
Cogburn’s ruling follows Monday’s announcement by the U.S. Supreme Court that it would not hear any appeal of a July ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond striking down Virginia’s ban. That court has jurisdiction over North Carolina.
“North Carolina’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional as a matter of law,” wrote Cogburn, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama. “The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue.”
Though Cogburn’s federal judicial district only covers the western third of the state, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said through a spokeswoman that the federal ruling applies statewide.
Cooper, a Democrat, had previously decided not to continue defending the ban after concluding that all possible legal defenses had been exhausted. He declined to be interviewed.
Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger kept his Asheville office open late to begin issuing marriage licenses to the dozens of waiting couples the moment the ban was struck down. When the crowd gathered in the lobby heard the news, they erupted in cheers.
“It’s a historical day for the state of North Carolina,” Reisinger said. “It’s autumn in Asheville and it’s a beautiful time to get married.”
Asheville is a progressive bastion nestled in the North Carolina mountains known for its vibrant downtown nightlife, art galleries and microbreweries. In anticipation of the ruling earlier this week, an enormous rainbow flag was draped across the front of Asheville’s landmark art-deco city hall to signal support for gay rights.