Puerto Rico has announced it will no longer attempt to legally defend its same-sex marriage ban.

The US territory currently maintains a ban on same-sex weddings, defining marriage as “a civil contract whereby a man and a woman mutually agree to become husband and wife”.

However, as a string of legal cases in the US head towards their conclusion, Puerto Rico has indicated that it will no longer defend its marriage ban at all – paving the way for same-sex couples to eventually wed.

Documents filed by the office of Puerto Rico’s Governor, García Padilla, said: “The commonwealth cannot responsibly advance before this court any interest sufficiently important or compelling to justify the differentiated treatment afforded so far to plaintiffs.”

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal – the firm representing Puerto Rican same-sex couples in a case – said: “The government of Puerto Rico finally recognizes that denying marriage to LGBTT people is discriminatory and cannot be justified.

“Same-sex partners, LGBTT people and their families are part of the rich Puerto Rican culture and society.

“The actions taken on this day complete the constitutional promises of justices and equality for LGBTT people in Puerto Rico.”

The move does not bring same-sex marriage to Puerto Rico instantly, but is likely to do so in the coming weeks when the First Circuit Court of Appeals weighs in.

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry said: “We commend the Puerto Rican government for their journey on marriage.

“The announcement today follows a long list of elected officials, including conservatives and Latino US representatives such as Linda Sanchez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Joaquin Castro, who believe that there is no legitimate reason for marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, and no place for it in law.

“A majority of Latinos support marriage, a majority of states have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, and loving and committed same-sex couples in Puerto Rico should not be left out.

“As the US Supreme Court prepares to hear marriage cases next month, this makes clear that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin tweeted in Spanish: “My thanks to Governor Alejandro García Padilla for showing he is a leader who is not afraid of the challenges of the present.”