Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United States have evolved over time and vary on a state-by-state basis. Unlike most Western nations, the United States does not extend complete legal rights to its LGBT citizens on a national level.
Sexual activity between consenting adults (age of consent in each state varies from age 16 to 18) and between adolescents of a close age, who are of the same sex, have been legal nationwide since 2003, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.
LGBT rights related laws including family, marriage, and anti-discrimination laws vary by state. Twelve states plus Washington, D.C. currently offer marriage to same-sex couples. California does not offer same-sex marriages, but does recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere between June 16 and November 4, 2008. Additionally, some states offer civil unions or other types of recognition which offer some of the legal benefits and protections of marriage.
Twenty-one states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sixteen states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are also punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
Adoption policies in regard to gay and lesbian parents also vary greatly from state to state. Some allow adoption by same-sex couples, while others ban all unmarried couples from adoption.
The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT rights advocacy group in the U.S.
LGBT rights and federal and state law
Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in the United States
Recognition of same-sex marriages÷＊
Unions granting rights similar to marriage
Legislation granting limited/enumerated rights
No specific prohibition or recognition of same-sex marriages or unions
State statute bans same-sex marriage
State constitution bans same-sex marriage÷
State constitution bans same-sex marriage and some or all other kinds of same-sex unions
÷ For the complex status of California, see same-sex marriage in California.
＊Includes three states with laws taking effect later this year (July 1: DE; August 1: RI & MN).
In 1972, the Supreme Court of Minnesota in Baker v. Nelson ruled that a state's denial of a civil marriage license to a same-sex couple did not violate the U.S. Constitution. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution's ban on sex discrimination entitled a same-sex couple to a civil marriage license unless the state could prove it had a "compelling state interest" for denying such a license. A lower court in Hawaii then found that the state had failed to show such a compelling interest, and same-sex marriage was legal in Hawaii for a day, before the judge stayed his ruling. Hawaii amended its constitution in 1998 to allow the legislature to restrict marriage to different-sex couples.
Currently four state Supreme Court decisions have legalized same sex marriage in four US states:
- On April 3, 2009 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum v. Brien that gay and lesbian couples could not be denied the right to marry because of the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution. Same sex marriage became legal on April 26, 2009 in Iowa.
Currently two state Supreme Court decisions have legalized civil unions in two US states:
- On December 20, 1999 the Supreme Court of Vermont ruled in Baker v. Vermont that same-sex marriage or something similar must be implemented in 100 days. The Vermont state legislators choose civil unions. Civil unions became legal in Vermont on July 1, 2000.
- On October 25, 2006 the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in Lewis v. Harris same-sex marriage or something similar must be implemented in 100 days. The New Jersey state legislators choose civil unions. Civil unions became legal in New Jersey on February 19, 2007.
Currently two state Supreme Court decisions have allowed same sex couples to adopt:
- On September 22, 2010 the Supreme Court of Florida ruled in In re: Gill that the 1977 ban on homosexuals adopting children in Florida was unconstitutional allowing same sex couples to adopt children in Florida.
- On April 7, 2011 the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled in Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Cole that the Arkansas Proposed Initiative Act No. 1 that banned non-married couples from adopting children was unconstitutional allowing same sex couples to adopt children in Arkansas.
Many states recognize through their judicial systems cohabitation agreements and common law partner agreements concluded between two partners in a relationship.These are de facto domestic partnerships that protect both parties and allow for shared property and court recognition of their relationships.
United States Supreme Court decisions
US sodomy laws
by the year when they were repealed or struck down. Sodomy laws remaining as of 2003 were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court
in Lawrence v. Texas
Laws repealed or struck down before 1970.
Laws repealed or struck down from 1970-1979.
Laws repealed or struck down from 1980-1989.
Laws repealed or struck down from 1990-1999.
Laws repealed or struck down from 2000-2002.
Laws struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2003.
In March 1956, a Federal District Court ruled that ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, was obscene under the Federal Comstock laws and thus could not be sent through the United States Postal Service. This ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in 1958, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling in One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371, which overturned the previous rulings under a new legal precedent that had been established by the landmark case, Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957). As a result, gay newspapers, magazines and other publications could be lawfully distributed through the public mail service. On May 22, 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which among other things banned homosexuals, as constitutional. This ban remained in effect until 1991.
In 1972, a Tacoma, Washington teacher of twelve years with a perfect record was terminated after a former student outed him to the vice-principal. The Washington Supreme Court found that homosexuality was immoral and impaired his efficiency as a teacher. The court supported its conclusion in various ways, including the definition of homosexuality in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the criminal nature of homosexual conduct, and finding that an "immoral" person could not be trusted to instruct students as his presence would be inherently disruptive. On October 3, 1977, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, although Justices Brennan and Marshall would have granted cert. This was the first homosexual discrimination decision to be aired on national network news. In fact, it was simultaneously aired on all three national network evening news shows, reaching approximately 60 million viewers.
In 1985, the Supreme Court heard Board of Education v. National Gay Task Force, which concerned First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges against a law that allowed schools to fire teachers for public homosexual conduct. The Court affirmed, by an equally divided vote, the Tenth Circuit's ruling that partially struck down the law.
Also in 1985, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Gay Student Services v. Texas A&M University, letting stand an appellate ruling ordering the university to provide official recognition of a student organization for homosexual students. The case set a national precedent by removing legal restrictions against gay rights groups on college campuses.
On June 30, 1986, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick, that homosexual sex was not protected under the right to privacy.
On May 20, 1996, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Romer v. Evans against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect homosexual or bisexual citizens from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
On March 4, 1998, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also applied when both parties are the same sex. The lower courts, however, have reached differing conclusions about whether this ruling applies to harassment motivated by anti-gay animus.
On June 28, 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right to exclude people from its organization on the basis of sexual orientation, irrespective of any applicable civil rights laws.
On June 26, 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that intimate consensual sexual conduct is part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, explicitly overruled Bowers v. Hardwick. Despite this ruling, some states have not repealed their sodomy laws and local law enforcement officers have used these statutes to harass or arrest gay people.
Legislative history of same-sex marriage
Currently nine states and the District of Columbia legislators have passed same-sex marriage bills in their states, of which four were vetoed by the governors, four were signed by state governors and the mayor of Washington D.C., and one was overridden by the state legislature:
- In September 2005 the California state legislators passed a same-sex marriage bill but each time it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was the first time a state legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill. In June 2005 the California state legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill, but it was again vetoed by Schwarzenegger. In September 2007 the California state legislators once again passed a same-sex marriage law but it was once again vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. On October 12, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the a bill, passed by the California state legislature, that recognizes same-sex marriages performed outside of the state of California before November 5, 2008. Same-sex marriages performed after November 5, 2008 are recognized in California with all of the legal rights of marriage but without the use of the word marriage.
- On March 25, 2009, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the same sex marriage bill passed by the Vermont state legislators. On April 7, 2009, the Vermont state legislators overrode the Governor's veto. Same-sex marriage in Vermont became legal on September 1, 2009.
- On May 6, 2009, Governor John Baldacci signed the same sex marriage bill passed by the Maine state legislators. On November 3, 2009, a voter referendum vetoed the state law that would have legalized same-sex marriage in Maine. In another voter initiative held on November 6, 2012, same-sex marriage was approved and became legal on December 29, 2012.
- On June 3, 2009, Governor Lynch signed the same-sex marriage bill passed by the New Hampshire state legislators. Same-sex marriage in New Hampshire became legal on January 1, 2010.
District of Columbia
- In June 2007 and December 2009 the New York state legislators attempted to pass a same sex marriage bill but it failed to pass. On May 29, 2008, Governor David Paterson directed all New York State agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Governor Paterson's directive cited the Appellate Division decision in the Martinez case, as well as several lower court rulings. As a result of the governor's directive, New York became the first state that did not allow same-sex marriages, but whose state agencies recognized same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. On June 24, 2011, Governor Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage bill passed by the New York state legislature. Same-sex marriage became legal in New York on July 24, 2011.
- On February 13, 2012, Governor Christine Gregoire signed the same sex marriage bill passed by the Washington state legislators. Same-sex marriage became legal in Washington on December 6, 2012, after being approved in a voter referendum on November 6, 2012.
- On February 16, 2012, the New Jersey state legislators passed a same-sex marriage bill. On February 17, 2012, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the same-sex marriage bill.
- On February 24, 2010, Maryland's Attorney General, Doug Gansler, issued an opinion after analyzing Maryland's comity laws that the state could recognize same-sex marriages performed in other U.S. states which permit same-sex marriage. According to Attorney General Gansler, the opinion is binding on state agencies effective immediately. On March 1, 2012, Governor Martin O'Malley signed the same-sex marriage bill passed by Maryland state legislators. Same sex marriage became legal in Maryland on January 1, 2013 after 52.4% of state voters approved the law in a referendum on November 6, 2012.
- On May 14, 2012, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages.
- On May 2, 2013, he signed legislation authorizing same-sex marriage, effective August 1.
- On February 15, 2013, the Illinois Senate passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. The bill is pending in the House of Representatives. Governor Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill if it passes the house.
- On May 11, 2011, Governor Jack Markell signed a civil union bill passed by the Delaware state legislators. Civil unions became legal in Delaware on January 1, 2012. Civil unions in Delaware grant almost exactly the same rights as married couples.
- On May 7, 2013, Governor Jack Markell signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Delaware, making it the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
- On May 13, 2013, a same-sex marriage bill passed in the Senate, after being passed through the House on May 9.
- On May 14, 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed the legislation into law, making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage, effective August 1, 2013.
Legislative history of civil unions and domestic partnerships
Currently fifteen US states and the District of Columbia have civil unions or domestic partnerships:
District of Columbia
- On June 11, 1992, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly signed into law a domestic partnership passed by the City Council. It came into effect on June 11, 1992 but was delayed from being implemented in the District of Columbia until 2002, due to a Republican rider added to delay its implementation. Domestic partnerships in the District of Columbia have been expanded over the years, the largest expansion was on May 6, 2008 when the City Council passed a domestic partnership expansion granting domestic partnerships almost exactly the same rights as married couples. On May 20, 2009, the City Council passed and signed into law allowing DC recognition of other states domestic partnerships and amending DC laws on parentage entitlements and rights to children from adult domestic partnerships. The proposed law became effective from July 20, 2009.
- The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the state had no compelling interest to deny same-sex couples a marriage license. In response, Hawaii state legislators submitted a constitutional amendment to the public to reserve marriage regulation solely to the discretion of the state legislature. The amendment passed and prohibited implementation of the Supreme Court's ruling. In March 1996, Hawaii state legislators attempted and failed to pass a law to legalize domestic partnerships. In June 1997, Governor Ben Cayetano signed the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act into law, providing limited rights for a "legal relationship created when two consenting adults who are prohibited from marriage." In 2010, Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a civil union bill passed by the Hawaii state legislators. The same civil unions bill was signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie on February 23, 2011. Civil unions in Hawaii went into effect January 1, 2012. Civil unions in Hawaii grant most of the rights afforded to married couples.
- California state legislators attempted to pass four domestic partnerships bills in 1994, 1998, and twice in 1999, of which those in 1994 and 1998 were vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson both times. In 1999 Governor Davis vetoed a domestic partnership bill in order to sign another less broad bill into law. On September 22, 1999, Governor Gray Davis signed the domestic partnership bill passed by the California state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in California on January 3, 2000, becoming the first US state to legalize domestic partnerships. Domestic partnerships in California have been expanded over the years, the largest expansion was on September 4, 2003 when the California state legislators passed a domestic partnership expansion granting domestic partnerships almost exactly the same rights as married couples, along with recognizing civil unions and domestic partnerships performed out of state. This came into effect on January 1, 2005.
- Due to a Supreme Court decision, on April 26, 2000, Governor Howard Dean signed a civil union bill passed by the Vermont state legislators. Civil unions became legal in Vermont on July 1, 2000, making it the first US state to recognize civil unions and the first to grant exactly the same rights as married couples.
- Since 2002, Rhode Island has allowed for domestic partnerships that provide some of the rights and benefits of marriage. On July 2, 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed civil union bill passed by Rhode Island state legislators. Civil unions became legal in Rhode Island on July 1, 2011. Civil unions in Rhode Island grant almost exactly the same rights as married couples.
- On January 12, 2004, Governor Jim McGreevey signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the New Jersey state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in New Jersey on July 10, 2004.
- Due to a Supreme Court decision, on December 21, 2006, Governor Jon Corzine signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the New Jersey state legislators. Civil unions became legal in New Jersey on February 19, 2007. Civil unions in New Jersey grant almost exactly the same rights as married couples.
- On April 28, 2004, Governor John Baldacci signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Maine state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Maine on July 30, 2004. Domestic partnerships in Maine offer limited recognition of same-sex relationships, but not all of the legal protections of marriage.
- In February 2005 Utah state legislators attempted to pass a reciprocal beneficiary relationship bill, but it failed to pass.
- On October 1, 2005, Governor Jodi Rell signed a civil unions bill passed by the Connecticut state legislators, and civil unions went into effect in Connecticut on the same day. On October 1, 2010, all existing civil unions were automatically transformed into marriages.
- On April 21, 2007, Governor Christine Gregoire signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Washington state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Washington on July 22, 2007. Domestic partnerships in Washington have been expanded over the years, the largest expansion was on November 6, 2009 when the voters of Washington passed Washington Referendum 71 was passed a domestic partnership expansion granting domestic partnerships almost exactly the same rights as married couples. This came into effect on December 3, 2009.
- In April 2007, the New Hampshire state legislators attempted to pass a civil union bill but it failed to pass. On May 31, 2007, Governor John Lynch signed a civil union bill passed by the New Hampshire state legislators. Civil unions became legal in Washington on January 1, 2008. On January 1, 2010, all existing civil unions were automatically transformed into marriages.
- In 2005 the Oregon state legislators attempted to pass a civil union bill but it failed to pass. On May 9, 2007, Governor Kulongoski signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Oregon state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Oregon on February 4, 2008. Domestic partnerships in Oregon grant almost exactly the same rights as married couples.
- In February 2008 and 2009, New Mexico state legislators attempted to pass a domestic partnership bill but each attempt failed.
- In May 2005 the Maryland state legislators attempted to pass a domestic partnership bill in Maryland but it was vetoed by Governor Robert Erlich. On May 22, 2008, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Maryland state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Maryland on July 1, 2008 and offered limited benefits to unmarried same-sex couples, but not all of the legal protections of marriage. Because voters in the state approved a law to legalize same-sex marriage on November 6, 2012, the state plans to end domestic partnership benefits on January 1, 2014.
- On April 9, 2009, Governor Bill Ritter signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Colorado state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Colorado on July 1, 2009. Domestic partnerships in Colorado offer limited recognition of same-sex relationships, but not all of the legal protections of marriage. In March 2011 and May 2012 Colorado state legislators attempted to pass a civil unions bill, but it was killed both times by the Republicans. In March 2013, the Colorado Senate and House passed a bill legalizing civil unions, which Governor John Hickenlooper signed on March 21, 2013. Civil unions began in Colorado on May 1, 2013.
- On June 29, 2009, Governor Jim Doyle signed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Wisconsin state legislators. Domestic partnerships became legal in Wisconsin on August 3, 2009. Domestic partnerships in Wisconsin offer limited recognition of same-sex relationships, but not all of the legal protections of marriage.
- On May 26, 2009, Governor Jim Gibbons vetoed a domestic partnership bill passed by the Nevada state legislators. This veto was overridden by the Senate on May 30, 2009. Domestic partnerships became legal in Nevada on October 1, 2009. Domestic partnerships in Nevada grant almost exactly the same rights as married couples.
- In May 2010 Minnesota state legislators attempted to pass a domestic partnership bill, but it was vetoed by the governor.
- On May 13, 2013, a bill that passed through the House in attempt to legalize same-sex marriages in the state passed the Senate. Minnesota is now the 12th State to legalize gay marriage.
- On January 12, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed a civil union bill passed by the Illinois state legislators. Civil unions became legal in Illinois on June 1, 2011. Civil unions in Illinois provide almost the same rights as marriages.
Initiative and referendum history
Fifteen states had initiatives to vote on same sex marriage and all but one time same sex marriage was defeated. In the 2012 November elections, Washington, Maryland, and Maine all had referendums to vote on same sex marriage. In this same election, Minnesota had an initiative to add a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Following the results of this election, Maryland, Maine, and Washington became the first states to allow same-sex marriage through popular vote.
- On November 7, 1978, California voted 58.4% against and 41.6% in favor of Proposition 6 also known as Briggs Initiative which if passed would have would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. California became the first US state to vote in favor of gay rights. The Briggs Initiative was the first ballot measure to try and restrict gay rights.
- On November 3, 1992, Colorado voted 53.41% in favor and 46.59% against Initiative 2 which was a constitutional amendment which prohibited local laws from giving protected status for sexual orientation. Initiative 2 was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1996.
- On November 3, 1992, Oregon voted 43.5% in favor and 56.5% against Oregon Ballot Measure 9 (1992) was an amendment that if passed would have banned the government in Oregon to use their monies or properties to "promote, encourage or facilitate" homosexuality.
- On March 7, 2000, California voted 61.40% in favor and 38.60% against Proposition 22 which banned same sex marriage in the California stature. Proposition 22 was found unconstitutional and overturned by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
- November 7, 2000, Nebraska voted 67.5% in favor and 28.8% against Nebraska Initiative Measure 416 (2000) which bans same sex marriage and civil unions in the constitution.
- On November 7, 2000, Nevada voted 69.62% in favor and 30.38% against Nevada Question 2 (2000). On November 7, 2002, Nevada voted 67.20% in favor and 32.80% against Nevada Question 2 (2002) again, which after the second approval, banned same sex marriage in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, Arkansas voted 75% in favor and 25% against Arkansas Constitutional Amendment 3 (2004), which bans same sex marriage and civil unions in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, Montana voted 66.6% in favor and 33.4% against Montana Initiative 96 (2004), which bans same sex marriage in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, North Dakota voted 73.23% in favor and 26.77% against North Dakota Constitutional Measure 1 (2004), which bans same sex marriage and civil unions in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, Ohio voted 61.71% in favor and 38.29% against Ohio State Issue 1 (2004), which bans same sex marriage and civil unions in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, Oregon voted 56.63% in favor and 43.37% against Oregon Ballot Measure 36 (2004), which bans same sex marriage in the constitution.
- On November 2, 2004, Michigan voted 58.6% in favor and 41.4% against Michigan State Proposal – 04-2 (2004), which bans same sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in the constitution.
- On November 7, 2006, Colorado voted 47.65% in favor and 52.35% against Colorado Referendum I (2006), which would have passed would have legalized domestic partnerships in Colorado. Also on the same day Colorado voted 55.02% in favor and 44.98% against Amendment 43 which banned same sex marriage in the constitution.
- On November 7, 2006, Arizona voted 51.8% against and 48.2% in favor of Proposition 107, which would have banned same sex marriage and civil unions in the Arizona state constitution.
- On April 3, 2007, Alaska voted 52.8% in favor and 47.2% against Alaska Advisory Vote on Same-Sex Public Employment Benefits, which would have prohibit the state, or a municipality or other subdivision of the state, from providing employment benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and to same-sex partners of public employee retirees. Although the referendum passed a bill to place such a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2008 stalled in the state legislature.
- On November 4, 2008, Florida voted 61.92% in favor and 38.08% against Florida Amendment 2, which bans both same sex marriage and civil unions in the constitution.
- On November 4, 2008, Arkansas voted 57.07% in favor and 42.93% against Arkansas Proposed Initiative Act No. 1, which was a constitutional amendment that banned all unmarried couples from adopting children.
- On November 4, 2008, California voted 52.24% in favor and 47.76% against Proposition 8, which overturned the In re Marriage Cases decision legalizing same sex marriage by banning same sex marriage in the constitution. Proposition 8 has since been declared unconstitutional.
- On November 6, 2009, Maine voted 52.75% in favor and 47.25% against Maine Question 1 which vetoed the same sex marriage law from coming into effect.
- On November 6, 2009, Washington voted 53.15% in favor and 46.85% against Referendum 71 to allow the "everything but marriage" domestic partnership expansion to go into effect on December 3, 2009. This made Washington the first state to vote to expand rights of same sex couples.
- On November 6, 2012, Maryland voted 52.4% in favor and 47.6% against Question 6 which allowed same-sex couples to receive civil marriage licenses starting January 1, 2013. Maryland became one of the first states to approve gay marriage through a popular vote.
- On November 6, 2012, Maine voted 53% in favor and 47% against Maine Question 1 which overturned the 2009 voter-approved ballot measure to ban a previous law allowing same sex marriage. Maine also became one of the first states to pass same sex marriage through popular vote.
- On November 6, 2012, Washington voted 54% in favor and 46% against Referendum 74 which allowed same sex marriage to be legalized in the state. Washington state also became one of the first states to pass same sex marriage through popular vote.
- On November 6, 2012, Minnesota voted 47.66% in favor and 52.34% against Minnesota Amendment 1 which rejected a proposed amendment to their state constitution which would have restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Defense of Marriage Act
The events of the Hawaii Supreme Court prompted the United States Congress to enact the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions and relieved states of the requirement that they recognize same-sex unions performed in other jurisdictions.
State constitutional amendments
There was a backlash after Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage during the 2004 election cycle where fourteen states amended their constitution to ban recognition of same-sex marriages and often civil unions as well. Mississippi voters amended their constitution, 86% to 14% – the largest margin in any state – to ban same-sex marriage and to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages that are legal elsewhere. Laws in Virginia, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina and Ohio, the most far-reaching, forbid recognition of any benefits similar to those of marriage between people of the same sex.
Currently 30 states have passed state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Proposition 8 was found unconstitutional in 2010 and is currently waiting for a Supreme Court decision.
Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment empowering the legislature to outlaw same-sex marriage; that state's lawmakers then did so in 1998.
On November 6, 2012, Minnesota became the first state to strike down a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment failed with a 53% to 47% vote.
After the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 many state legislators enacted state statutes, nicknamed mini-DOMA's, that ban same sex marriage. Currently 33 states have state statutes that ban same-sex marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
California, Nebraska, Nevada, and Oregon all have constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage, but no state statutes banning same sex marriage.
Currently 11 states have state statutes that ban same-sex marriage, but do not have same-sex marriage banned in the constitution: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
California, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia used to have statutes banning same sex marriage until they were overturned. Proposition 22, the statute ban on same-sex marriage in California, was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have never had any bans in neither their constitutions nor statute banning same-sex marriage.
State adoption laws
Legal status of adoption by same-sex couples in the United States
Joint adoption and stepparent adoption legal
Stepparent adoption legal
Joint adoption illegal
Stepparent adoption illegal
A single individual gay person may adopt in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia, although there are fewer states where they may adopt children jointly with their partners. Full joint adoption by same-sex couples is currently legal in the following states or jurisdiction:
Stepparent adoption by same-sex couples is currently legal in the following states:
Current U.S. LGBT employment discrimination
Sexual orientation and gender identity
Sexual orientation onlyState employment:
Sexual orientation and gender identity
Sexual orientation only
No state-level protection for LGBT employees
Employment discrimination refers to discriminatory employment practices such as bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation, and various types of harassment. In the United States there is "very little statutory, common law, and case law establishing employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation as a legal wrong." Some exceptions and alternative legal strategies are available.
Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia, and over 140 cities and counties have enacted bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity.
Hate crime laws
Hate crime laws (also known as bias crimes laws) protect against crimes motivated by feelings of enmity against a protected class. Until 2009, a 1969 federal law defined hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, or nation origin when engaging in a federally protected activity. In October 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, and disability. It removed the requirement that the victim of a hate crime be engaged in a federally protected activity. President Obama signed the legislation on October 28, 2009.
Two statutes, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (1990) and the Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act (1997), require the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as college/university campus security authorities, to collect and publish hate crime statistics.
Current U.S. LGBT hate crimes laws
by state. A national hate crimes law encompasses both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sexual orientation and gender identity recognized in state hate crimes law
Sexual orientation recognized in state hate crimes law
Sexual orientation recognized for data collection about hate crimes
State hate crimes law uninclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation (the exceptions are AR, GA, IN, SC, and WY). Each of these statutes covers bias on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity; 32 cover disability; 31 of them cover sexual orientation; 28 cover gender; 13 cover age; 13 cover transgender/gender-identity; 5 cover political affiliation. 31 states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalty, for similar acts. 27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.
In Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) the Supreme Court unanimously held that state penalty-enhancement laws for hate crimes were constitutional and did not violate First Amendment rights to freedom of thought and expression.
States that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation
or gender identity
regulations require all housing providers that receive HUD funding not to discriminate against an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation only
Does not factor sexual orientation or gender identity/unclear
Housing discrimination refers to discrimination against potential or current tenants by landlords. In the United States, there is no federal law against such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but at least twenty-one states and many major cities have enacted laws prohibiting it. See, for example, Washington House Bill 2661.
In 2012, The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a regulation to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally-assisted housing programs. The new regulations ensure that the Department's core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
On April 14, 2010, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order to the Department of Health and Human Services to draft new rules for all hospitals accepting Medicare or Medicaid funds. They would require facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to gay and lesbian partners, as well as designees of others such as widows and widowers. Such rights are not protected by law in many states. Obama said he was inspired by the case of a Florida family, where one of the mothers died while her partner and four children were denied visitation by the hospital.
In the US, the current guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to permanently defer any male donor who has had sex with another man, in the period from 1977 to the present day.
As of 2012, only California and New York allow same sex couples to have conjugal visits. In June 2007, California became the first US state to allow same-sex conjugal visits. The policy was enacted to comply with a 2005 state law requiring state agencies to give the same rights to domestic partners that heterosexual couples receive. The new rules allow for visits only by registered same sex marriage couples or domestic partners who are not themselves incarcerated. Further, the same sex marriage or domestic partnership must have been established before the prisoner was incarcerated. In April 2011, New York adopted to allow conjugal visits for currently married, or civil-unioned, spouses of same-sex partners.
Prior to 1993, lesbian and gay people were not permitted to serve in the US military. Under the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy enacted that year, they were permitted to do so only if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 permitted homosexual men and women to serve openly in the armed forces following once designated government officials certified that the military was prepared for the repeal. Since September 20, 2011, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have been able to serve openly. Transsexual and intersex service-members however are still banned from serving openly, due to Department of Defense medical policies which consider gender identity disorder to be a medically disqualifying condition.
Laws regarding same-sex sexual activity
Prior to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas same-sex sexual activity was illegal in fourteen US states, Puerto Rico, and the US military.
Twenty nine states, the District of Columbia, and five territories had repealed their state's sodomy laws by legislative action. After the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" the US Congress repealed sodomy laws in the US military. Twelve states have had state Supreme Court or state Appeals court struck down their state's sodomy laws. Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Virginia have all had their state sodomy laws struck down by the courts but have yet to repeal those laws legislatively. On April 18, 2013, the governor of Montana signed a bill repealing that state's sodomy law that had been previously nullified by a state court decision.
Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah still have yet to repeal or strike down their state's sodomy laws, although unenforceable due to the Supreme Court ruling.
Reparations for gays and lesbians in the United States were first proposed by Robert DeKoven, a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego. DeKoven cited the examples of the European Court of Human Rights as a model. New York University Professor and lawyer Jacob Appel was the first pundit to champion such a cause in a mainstream media outlet. However, such proposals remain highly controversial.
Recent polls or ballot votes that show a majority of that state's population supports same-sex marriage.
Recent polls that show less than a majority of that state's population opposes same-sex marriage.
Recent polls or ballot votes that show a majority of that state's population opposes same-sex marriage.
A March 2011 public opinion poll by ABC News/Washington Post showed support for gay marriage at 53% among Americans, and a May 2011 Gallup opinion poll also showed 53% support for gay marriage among Americans. A May 2009 Gallup poll indicated 54% support for gays and lesbians being allowed to adopt children.
Older polls showed that the nation could be divided into roughly equal thirds: one third supports gay marriage completely, another supports only civil unions, and the last is against any form of union entirely. However, in terms of attitudes to homosexuality, the United States can hardly be called one country. It is common for polls to show a clear majority support for gay marriage in Northeastern states, and Pacific Coast states. States that have consistently shown a majority support for gay marriage for at least the past few years include Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and the capital, as well as (occasionally) Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. While some of these states do not (currently) have gay marriage, Iowa, which does have gay marriage, does not have majority support; in fact, polls place support in the high thirties or low forties (still slightly higher than the national average). In New York, where there was majority support reported since 2005, marriage became legal on July 24, 2011. Iowa falls into a second category of states, where new generations of voters overwhelmingly support gay marriage (those under thirty have support placed above 60%).
The main supports of gay rights in the U.S. have generally been political liberals. Regionally, support for the gay rights movement has been strongest in the North coast and West coast and in other states with a large urban population.
Although the national Republican Party official platform opposes gay rights there are groups advocating for LGBT issues inside the party include the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, Young Conservatives For The Freedom To Marry, and College Republicans of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. A poll in March 2013 found that 34% of Republicans supported same-sex marriage, with 52% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents between the age of 18–49 years old supporting same-sex marriage.
Notable Republicans who support same-sex marriage include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former GOP national chairman Ken Mehlman, Jon Huntsman, Jr., Rob Portman, Meg Whitman, Tom Ridge, William Weld, Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci, Christine Todd Whitman, and Theodore Olson. The last figure has co-led the legal campaign against Californian anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8. More than 100 former Republican lawmakers, leaders and governors signed an amicus brief calling for California's ban on same-sex marriage to be overturned.
The following corporations have donated money, lended support to campaigns and court cases, or announced support of organizations that seek to protect or fight for same-sex marriage rights. Additionally, seventy companies, law firms, and trade organizations filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
The main opponents of gay rights in the U.S. have generally been political and religious conservatives. Conservatives cite various Bible passages from the Old and New Testaments as their justification for opposing gay rights. Regionally, opposition to the gay rights movement has been strongest in the South and in other states with a large rural population.
As the movement for same-sex marriage has developed, many national and/or international organizations have opposed that movement. Those organizations include the American Family Association, the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Save Our Children, NARTH, the national Republican Party, the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Southern Baptist Convention, Alliance for Marriage, Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage. A number of these groups have been named as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
U.S. political parties
Gerald Ford, as former president, opposed the Briggs Initiative, a California ballot measure that would have banned gays and supporters of gay rights from being public school teachers. In October 2001, Ford broke with conservative members of the Republican party by stating that gay and lesbian couples "ought to be treated equally. Period." He became the highest ranking Republican to embrace full equality for gays and lesbians, stating his belief that there should be a federal amendment outlawing anti-gay job discrimination and expressing his hope that the Republican Party would reach out to gay and lesbian voters. He also was a member of the Republican Unity Coalition, which The New York Times described as "a group of prominent Republicans, including former President Gerald R. Ford, dedicated to making sexual orientation a non-issue in the Republican Party".
Jimmy Carter was the first US president to address the topic of gay rights, when he publicly opposed the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban homosexuals from teaching in public school. His administration was the first to meet with a group of gay rights activists, and in recent years he has acted in favor of civil unions and ending the ban on gays in the military. He has stated that he "opposes all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and believes there should be equal protection under the law for people who differ in sexual orientation". In March 2012, Jimmy Carter came out in favor of same sex marriage.
As Governor of California, Ronald Reagan opposed the Briggs Initiative. But whenever the issue was raised while he was President, he was either apathetic toward or opposed to gay rights.
During his 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan condemned homosexuality as: "an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I."
Additionally, Reagan has been criticized by some LGBT groups for allegedly ignoring (by failing to adequately address or fund) the growing AIDS epidemic, even as it took thousands of lives in the 1980s. Reagan's Surgeon General from 1982-1989, Dr. C. Everett Koop, claims that his attempts to address the issue were shut out by the Reagan Administration. According to Koop, the prevailing view of the Reagan Administration was that "transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs" and therefore that people dying from AIDS were "only getting what they justly deserve."
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush did not address gay rights as president. The 1992 Log Cabin Republican convention was held in Spring, Texas, a Houston exurb. The main issue discussed was whether or not LCR would endorse the re-election of President George H. W. Bush. The group voted to deny that endorsement because Bush did not denounce anti-gay rhetoric at the 1992 Republican National Convention.
Bill Clinton's legacy on gay rights is a matter of controversy. Richard Socarides credits Clinton as the first President to publicly champion gay rights, and Clinton (both in 1992 and 1996) was the first major Presidential candidate supported by gay rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign. As President, Clinton issued executive orders ending the ban on security clearances for LGBT federal employees and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce, as well as successfully lobbied for a doubling of HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment funding at the federal level. He also (unsuccessfully) lobbied for passing hate crimes laws for gays and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Clinton was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions, appointing over 150 LGBT appointees. The first openly gay US ambassador, James Hormel, received a recess appointment from the President after the Senate failed to confirm the nomination.
However, Clinton signed both the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell into law as president, though the former came to Clinton's desk with a veto-proof majority and the latter was a compromise following Clinton's failed attempt to allow open LGBT service. Clinton's signing of DOMA and DADT have led critics like Andrew Sullivan to argue Clinton was a detriment to rather than an ally for the LGBT rights movement. In July 2009, Bill Clinton publicly came out in favor of same sex marriage.
George W. Bush
George W. Bush was either neutral towards or opposed gay rights as president. As Governor of Texas, Bush had opposed efforts to repeal the criminal prohibition on "homosexual conduct", the same law that the United States Supreme Court overturned in 2003. (Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)). During the 2000 campaign he did not endorse a single piece of gay rights legislation, although he did meet with an approved group of gay Republicans, a first for a Republican presidential candidate.
In the 2000 election, Bush said he opposed same sex couples adopting children. In his first four years of office, his views on gay rights were often difficult to ascertain, but many experts feel that the Bush White House wanted to avoid bad publicity without alienating evangelical conservative Christian voters. Thus, he did not repeal President Clinton's Executive Order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal civilian government, but its critics felt it was being ignored. He did not attempt to repeal Don't ask, don't tell, nor make an effort to change it. He threatened to veto the Matthew Shepard Act, which would have included sexual orientation in hate crimes, and Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
In a 2000 presidential debate, George W. Bush, said he supports state's rights when it came to marriage, however, after Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, in February 2004 Bush came out in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, that would prohibit same-sex couples from obtaining any legal recognition. President Bush endorsed this proposed amendment, but late in the campaign told ABC News and Larry King that he did not have a problem with state legislators enacting some type of civil unions legislation, although critics charged that the constitutional amendment he endorsed did not permit recognition of such unions. In 2004 and 2006, Congress voted twice on the Federal Marriage Amendment, but couldn't get a two thirds majority to pass it.
Bush was the first Republican president to appoint an openly gay man to serve in his administration, Scott Evertz as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. In addition, during Bush's first term, his nominee as ambassador to Romania, Michael E. Guest, became the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the Senate as a U.S. ambassador.
In December 2008, the Bush administration refused to support the U.N. declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations that condemns the use of violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Barack Obama has taken a definitive pro-LGBT rights stance. Obama opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, Proposition 8, and supported civil unions while running for president in 2008. When Obama became president his administration, in a reversal of Bush administration policy, signed the U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, issued an Executive Order to the Department of Health and Human Services that requires facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to same sex couples, signed the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, has appointed the most U.S. gay officials of any US president as well as the first openly transgender appointees, supports the passage of Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and has become the first sitting US president to support same sex marriage. Obama also called for full equality during his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." It was the first mention of rights for gays and lesbians or use of the word gay in an inaugural address.
The Democratic Party has endorsed some gay rights legislation in its national party platform since the 1980s. The Democratic Party's 2012 national platform opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and supports "equal responsibility, benefits, and protections" for same-sex couples, and explicitly supports same-sex marriage.
National Stonewall Democrats
The Republican Party’s 2012 platform opposes any legal recognition of same sex couples, supports a ban on same-sex marriage through a federal constitutional amendment, along with state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Log Cabin Republicans
Created in 1977 in California, in response to the anti-gay Briggs Initiative, which attempted to ban homosexuals from teaching in public schools. Log Cabin Republicans support full equal rights for LGBT people, including Employment Nondiscrimination Act and same-sex marriage.
GOProud is a gay conservative organization founded in 2009. Although GOProud supports repealing DOMA, and opposes a Federal Marriage Amendment, GOProud has no official position on same sex marriage and believe marriage should be left to the states. GOProud also has no official position on Employment Nondiscrimination Act and opposes hate-crime legislation.
The Constitution Party (United States) is strongly opposed to all forms of gay rights including legal bans on homosexual consent. The party is very conservative and has ties to Christian Reconstructionism, a political movement within Conservative Christian Churches.
The Libertarian Party has endorsed libertarian perspectives on LGBT rights since it was created in 1971. The Libertarian Party also wishes to lift the bans, but with the ultimate goal of marriage privatization.
The Green Party also has endorsed gay rights since it was created in the 1991 and supports same sex marriage.
Other political parties
While many American socialist and communist political parties initially preferred to ignore the issue, most support gay rights causes. The Socialist Party USA was the first party to nominate an openly gay man, David McReynolds, as its Presidential candidate in 1980.
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