May 20, 2014 3:11 PM EDT

A federal judge in Pennsylvania overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage Tuesday, the latest in a flurry of rulings that, if upheld, will make same-sex unions legal across the entire northeast United States.

Eleven couples and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the case in 2013, saying the law harmed them by denying them legal protections and tax benefits afforded to same-sex married couples.

“Loving and committed couples and their families in the nation’s sixth largest state will be able to share in the joy, security and dignity that come with the freedom to marry,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. “The stone that was once left out has become the keystone, and now it’s time to finish the job nationwide.”

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is likely to appeal the ruling. His office had taken up defense of the ban after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a rising-star Democrat, declined to defend it in court, calling it unconstitutional and citing the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Kane said she stands by her decision to refuse to defend the law, and celebrated the judge’s ruling Tuesday

“Today brings justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation,” she said in a statement. “When state-sponsored inequality exists, citizens are deprived of the full protections that the Constitution guarantees. Our Commonwealth progressed today and so have the hopes and dreams of many who suffer from inequality.”

A recent poll found that 56 percent of Pennsylvanians support same-sex marriage.

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