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Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage struck down by state judge

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(CNN) — Arkansas became the latest state to have its ban on same-sex marriage overturned, after a state judge Friday declared the voter-approved measure to be unconstitutional.

Twenty-one gay and lesbian couples were part of a group of plaintiffs challenging Amendment 83 to the Arkansas constitution, saying it violated their federal and state rights of equal protection and privacy.

There was no indication from the court the decision would be stayed, meaning some same-sex couples could presumably begin getting married immediately. The state has the option of asking for a stay on enforcement, and the legal fight is now likely headed to the state supreme court.

“Our freedoms are often acquired slowly, but our country has evolved as a beacon of liberty in what is sometimes a dark world. These freedoms include a right to privacy,” said Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza. “It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.”

The ruling continues a near-unbroken string of state and federal court victories nationwide in the past year, giving marriage-equality supporters unbridled encouragement that their ultimate goal will be achieved: eliminating all laws limiting the rights of homosexuals to wed.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage within its borders: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Just a decade ago, there were none.

Friday also marks the two-year anniversary of President Barack Obama voicing his public support for the first time of same-sex marriage, citing his own “evolution” on the issue. “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” said Obama at the time.