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Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Gay-Marriage Ban

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The ruling is the latest in a growing cascade of federal and state court decisions declaring a right to marry for gay couples.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a federal law barring recognition of same-sex marriage, federal and state courts have been rife with challenges to state bans. On Tuesday, Judge John Jones III in Pennsylvania became the latest federal judge to strike down such a ban.

Jones pointed to the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling declaring unconstitutional segregated schools that had been justified as "separate but equal." In the 60 years since then, he wrote, " 'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage."

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," Jones wrote.

To date, federal judges have struck down bans on same-sex marriage in 13 states: Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Oregon and now Pennsylvania.

Additionally, state court judges have struck down bans in other states, including most recently Arkansas. In many of these states, these rulings have been temporarily blocked pending appeal. In a couple, state officials have chosen not to appeal, and in others, the weight of rapidly changing public opinion has dramatically turned the political dynamic.

As things now stand, through a combination of state court rulings, state legislation, and ballot initiatives, gay marriage is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia: California, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Hawaii and Delaware.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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