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SAN FRANCISCO – In a landmark case, a federal judge ruled today that California’s Proposition 8 law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional.

Just five months after the state Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was legal, California voters in November 2008 narrowly approved Prop. 8 and took away the right despite the fact that more than 18,000 gay and lesbians couples had legally married.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker presided over the case, which went to trial on Jan. 11, 2010. Closing arguments concluded on June 16.

In his ruling, which was released electronically just minutes ago, Walker declared that Prop. 8 violated the U.S. Constitution on two counts: due process and equal protection clauses.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8. California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to samesex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result … moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings,” Walker wrote in his ruling.

“Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement; prohibiting the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8,” Walker wrote.

The news thrilled Fernando Lopez, a marriage-equality activist from San Diego.

“Today we stand victorious in the light of love piercing through the storm of discrimination. This moment is our tipping point as the years of institutionalized legal barriers begin to crumble and fall under the weight of their own hatred and fear,” Lopez said. “The precedent set here today will resonate across this country, and in the pursuit of happiness, we will achieve true liberty and justice for all.”

Brian Lyons of San Diego was overjoyed by the ruling.

“Today was a step in the right direction for equality in America. I believe that California as an entire entity has grown and matured in the last 2 years since Prop 8 passed, and Judge Walker took that into consideration when making his decision. Although an appeal is imminent, I know in my heart that Californians up and down the state are standing up for equality, and will never sit idly by again. Today we celebrate and thank our fellow citizens, but the work continues. Equality for all 2010,” Lyons said.

Lisa Kove, executive director of DOD FED GLOBE, was ready for the decision.

“An error exposed as the truth of equality is obtained,” she said.

“Still we must remember that many employees of the federal government reside in California and cannot share their benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is our hope that the Attorney General of California will sue the federal government to obtain those rights for its citizens that are in a same gender marriage.”

Stay tuned as SDGLN follows this breaking story all day.

SDGLN Staff Writers Esther Rubio-Sheffrey and Ben Cartwright contributed to this report.