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South Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Overturned

Colleen Condon, left, and her partner Nichols Bleckley appear at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in October, shortly after filing a federal lawsuit seeking the right to marry in South Carolina. A federal judge has ruled in their favor. Bruce Smith/AP hide caption

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Bruce Smith/AP

Colleen Condon, left, and her partner Nichols Bleckley appear at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in October, shortly after filing a federal lawsuit seeking the right to marry in South Carolina. A federal judge has ruled in their favor.

Bruce Smith/AP

Rejecting the state's argument that it, not the U.S. government, has the authority to define marriage, a federal judge overturned South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports:

"Charleston federal judge Richard Gergel ruled same-sex couples have a right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

"The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by a lesbian couple denied a marriage license by the Charleston County probate court last month.

"They sued, arguing that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had cleared the way for gay marriage in its jurisdiction, including South Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision.

"South Carolina won't have to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples though: Judge Gergel stayed his ruling until Nov. 20 to give Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson time to appeal."

The State newspaper calls the ruling "a historic victory" for plaintiffs Colleen Condon and Anne Bleckley, noting that the couple say they've experienced irreparable harm due to the state's actions.

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The newspaper adds that Gergel "specifically overturned an amendment to the S.C. Constitution passed by a huge majority of South Carolinians in 2006. That amendment passed by a 78-22 percent majority in a referendum."

We'll note that Gergel was interviewed by NPR earlier this year, for a story about his judiciial district's role in the Civil Rights era.