By Jonathan Kaminsky
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal district court judge in New Orleans upheld a Louisiana ban on gay marriage on Wednesday, in a break from a string of recent rulings against such bans in other states following a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The decision is the first by a federal judge to uphold a state gay marriage ban since the nation's top court last year struck down a federal benefits law that restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples.
"Louisiana's decision to neither permit nor recognize same-sex marriage, formed in the arena of the democratic process, is supported by a rational basis," Judge Martin Feldman wrote.
Since the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling in the United States v. Windsor case, nearly 30 federal and state courts have ruled against bans on same-sex marriage at the state level. Although one state judge in Tennessee upheld a ban, no federal judges had done so until Wednesday.
The Supreme Court is expected to take up at least one of the lower court cases during its next term, which starts in October.
Three cases already are pending at the court that the justices can choose from, involving fights over the bans in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.
Whichever one they choose would likely be the most momentous civil rights case in years.
Nineteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
The Louisiana ruling, which covers both the state's ban on same-sex marriages and its refusal to recognize such unions from other states, is supported by Louisiana's interest in "linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents," Feldman wrote.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriages, said in a statement that the ruling “puts the lie to the claim that it is inevitable the U.S. Supreme Court will redefine marriage. To the contrary, we believe they will leave this issue with the states."
The plaintiffs will appeal the ruling, said SarahJane Brady, executive director of Forum for Equality, a Louisiana-based group that is among the plaintiffs.
"Love is love no matter where you live," she said.
Feldman, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, gained notice in 2010 by overturning an Obama administration temporary ban on deep-sea drilling that followed BP Plc's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier that year.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Susan Heavey and Eric Beech)