LGBT rights in the United States

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LGBT rights in the United States United States
United States
Same-sex sexual activity legal?Legal nationwide since 2003
(Lawrence v. Texas)
Gender identity/expressionLaws vary by state
Military service

Yes (for lesbian, gay, and bisexual members); "Don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed in September 2011

Transgender/transsexual and intersex persons not allowed to enlist
Discrimination protections

Varies by state. (see below)
Federal hate-crime law includes sexual orientation and gender identity since 2009

Federal executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation for employees in the federal civilian workforce, along with the government employment in the District of Columbia, and the United States Postal Service, since 1998 (see Executive Order 13087).
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex unions recognized federally, varies by state
Defense of Marriage Act (1996) at federal level - Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act invalidated June 26, 2013 (United States v. Windsor), other restrictions vary by state
AdoptionVaries by state
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LGBT rights in the United States United States
United States
Same-sex sexual activity legal?Legal nationwide since 2003
(Lawrence v. Texas)
Gender identity/expressionLaws vary by state
Military service

Yes (for lesbian, gay, and bisexual members); "Don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed in September 2011

Transgender/transsexual and intersex persons not allowed to enlist
Discrimination protections

Varies by state. (see below)
Federal hate-crime law includes sexual orientation and gender identity since 2009

Federal executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation for employees in the federal civilian workforce, along with the government employment in the District of Columbia, and the United States Postal Service, since 1998 (see Executive Order 13087).
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex unions recognized federally, varies by state
Defense of Marriage Act (1996) at federal level - Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act invalidated June 26, 2013 (United States v. Windsor), other restrictions vary by state
AdoptionVaries by state

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United States have evolved over time and vary greatly on a state-by-state basis.

Sexual activity between consenting adults and adolescents of a close age of the same sex has been legal nationwide since 2003, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. Age of consent in each state varies from age 16 to 18; some states maintain different ages of consent for males/females or same-sex/opposite-sex relations.

LGBT rights related laws including family, marriage, and anti-discrimination laws vary by state. Seventeen states plus Washington, D.C. offer marriage to same-sex couples; these marriages are recognized by the federal government, but not by most other states. 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. and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and seventeen states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.[1] 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. In 2011 and 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals classified as a form of sex discrimination and thus violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[2]

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.

Civil rights for LGBT people in the United States are advocated by a variety of organizations at all levels and concentrations of political and legal life, including the Human Rights Campaign,[3] Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.


LGBT rights and federal and state law[edit]

State laws regarding same-sex partnerships in the United States*
  Same-sex marriage allowed1
  Domestic partnerships or civil unions granting privileges similar to marriage for same-sex domestic partners2
  Limited/enumerated privileges granted by state
  Same-sex marriage performed elsewhere recognized
  No prohibition or recognition of same-sex marriage or unions in territory law
  Judicial ruling against a same-sex marriage ban stayed pending appeal3
  Statute bans same-sex marriage
  Constitution and statute ban same-sex marriage4
  Constitution and statute ban same-sex marriage and some or all other same-sex unions

*Same-sex marriage is recognized by the federal government for residents of all states.
1 The bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois goes into effect on June 1, 2014, but same-sex marriages have already begun in Cook County and select other counties following a court ruling. Eight Native American tribal jurisdictions also allow same-sex marriage.
2 Not recognized by federal government. Some states that allow same-sex marriage also allow other same-sex unions. See Civil unions in the United States.
3 Same-sex marriages were briefly performed in Utah and Michigan prior to their respective judicial rulings being stayed. Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage was partially struck down; the judge found that refusing to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
4 A U.S. district court has issued a preliminary injunction that Tennessee recognize the same-sex marriages of the plaintiffs in Tanco v. Haslam.
Laws regarding same-sex partnerships by state, county, and local level in the United States
  Same-sex marriage
  Unions granting rights similar to marriage1,2
  Legislation granting limited/enumerated rights
  State grants benefits to state employees
  Same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized
  No specific recognition of same-sex marriages or unions in state law3,4

1Oregon recognizes out of state same-sex marriages.
2Colorado recognizes out of state same-sex marriages for the purposes of joint taxation only.
3Ohio recognizes out of state same-sex marriages for death certificate purposes only.
4Missouri recognizes out of state same-sex marriages for the purposes of state taxation only.

Judicial history[edit]

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.[4] A lower court in Hawaii then found that the state had failed to show such a compelling interest,[5] 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.

Four state Supreme Court decisions have legalized same sex marriage in four US states:

Two state Supreme Court decisions have legalized civil unions in two US states:

Two state Supreme Court decisions have allowed same sex couples to adopt:

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.[6][6]

United States Supreme Court decisions[edit]

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.[7]

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.[8][9][10][11][12]

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.[13] The Court affirmed, by an equally divided vote, the Tenth Circuit's ruling that partially struck down the law.[14][15]

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.[16]

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.[17] Despite this ruling, some states have not repealed their sodomy laws[18] and local law enforcement officers have used these statutes to harass or arrest gay people.[19][20][21]

Ten years after the Lawrence v. Texas decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of the person ... protected by the Fifth Amendment". United States v. Windsor, the title of the landmark case, was decided by a 5 to 4 vote. The federal government is required to recognize marriages performed in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, and provide federal rights, privileges and benefits.[22][23] By February 14, 2014, there had been twelve "substantive" Federal District Court decisions bearing on the constitutionality of various state constitutional, and statutory, bans on gay marriage. In every case the district court struck down the ban as unconstitutional.[24] Decisions were rendered in Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia. In addition to marriage there have been six decisions which have addressed other aspects of government sponsored discrimination due to sexual orientation, for example, selection to serve on juries, or receive employment benefits. In all six cases the courts struck down the discriminatory acts.[24]

Legislative history of same-sex marriage[edit]

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:




New Hampshire[edit]

District of Columbia[edit]

New York[edit]


New Jersey[edit]


Rhode Island[edit]




Legislative history of civil unions and domestic partnerships[edit]

Fifteen US states and the District of Columbia have civil unions or domestic partnerships:

District of Columbia[edit]




Rhode Island[edit]

New Jersey[edit]





New Hampshire[edit]


New Mexico[edit]







Initiative and referendum history[edit]

Fifteen states had initiatives to vote on same sex marriage and all but one time same sex marriage was defeated.[33] 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.[34]


Defense of Marriage Act[edit]

The events of the Hawaii Supreme Court prompted the United States Congress to enact the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) 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.

On June 26, 2013, Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor.

State constitutional amendments[edit]

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[35][36] – 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.

Twenty-nine states have passed state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, 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.

California Proposition 8 was found unconstitutional in 2010 by a United States District Court. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit and later the Supreme Court, but since the government of California declined to defend the ballot measure, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 to dismiss both appeals.[37][38][39] On June 28, 2013, the Ninth Circuit lifted its stay of the district court's ruling, enabling same-sex marriages to resume.[40]

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 vote down a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment failed with a 53% to 47% vote.[41]

State statutes[edit]

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.[42] Thirty states have state statutes that ban same-sex marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Nebraska, Nevada, and Oregon all have constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage, but no state statutes banning same sex marriage. California's Statute has not been repealed but is no longer in effect as a result of both In Re Marriage Cases and Hollingsworth.

Four states have state statutes that ban same-sex marriage, but do not have same-sex marriage banned in the constitution: Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

California, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maine, Washington, Minnesota and the District of Columbia used to have statutes banning same sex marriage, until they were overturned by courts or repealed by the state legislature. Proposition 22, the initiative which reinforce the 1977 statute ban on same-sex marriage in California, was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2008 but was subsequently reinstated by Proposition 8 until it was struck down in Hollingsworth.

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.

Blood donation[edit]

Blood donation policies for men who have sex with men
  Men who have sex with men may donate blood; No deferral
  Men who have sex with men may donate blood; Temporary deferral1
  Men who have sex with men may not donate blood; Permanent deferral2
  No Data
1Regulation not fully implemented in Finland
2No restriction in Israel and the United States of America if last MSM activity was before 1977.

In the US, the current guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to permanently defer any male donor who has had sex with another man, in the period from 1977 to the present day.

State adoption laws[edit]

Legal status of adoption by same-sex couples in the United States
  Joint adoption and stepparent adoption legal1
  Stepparent adoption legal
  Joint adoption illegal
  Stepparent adoption illegal

1Stepparent adoption is not legal in Arkansas and Maine.

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 and stepparent adoption by same-sex couples is legal in the following states or jurisdictions:

Full joint adoption, but not stepparent adoption, is legal in the following states:

Stepparent adoption, but not full joint adoption, is legal in the following states:

Anti-discrimination laws[edit]

Medical facilities[edit]

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.[46] 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.[46]


States that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD 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

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is an agency within the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. FHEO is responsible for administering and enforcing federal fair housing laws and establishing policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. 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.[47] 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. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is responsible for enforcing a variety of fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination in both privately owned and publicly assisted housing including:


Current U.S. LGBT employment discrimination laws.
All employment:
  Sexual orientation and gender identity
  Sexual orientation only
State employment:
  Sexual orientation and gender identity
  Sexual orientation only
  No state-level protection for LGBT employees

There is no federal statute addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Protections at the national level are limited. Some regulations protect government employees but do not extend their protections to the private sector. Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and over 140 cities and counties have enacted bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity. Employment discrimination refers to discriminatory employment practices such as bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation, and various types of harassment.[48] 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."[49]

Presidents have established certain protections for some employees of the federal government by executive order. In 1995, President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12968 establishing criteria for the issuance of security clearances included sexual orientation for the first time in its non-discrimination language: "The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information." It also said that "no inference" about suitability for access to classified information "may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee."[50] Clinton's Executive Order 13087 in 1998 prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the competitive service of the federal civilian workforce. It applied to the large majority of federal employees, but not to the excepted services such as the military.[51]

At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On July 1, 2011, the EEOC ruled that job discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals constituted a form of sex-stereotyping and thus violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[52] On April 20, 2012,[52] the EEOC went further and ruled that gender identity was also a protected class under the ban on sex discrimination found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[53]

Hate crime laws[edit]

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.[54] President Obama signed the legislation on October 28, 2009.[55]

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, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico 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; 32 of them cover sexual orientation; 28 cover gender; 13 cover age; 18 cover transgender/gender-identity; 5 cover political affiliation.[56] 31 states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalty, for similar acts.[56] 27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.[56]

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.

Conjugal visits[edit]

In the United States, six states permit conjugal visits: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington, in all of which except Mississippi same-sex marriage is legal.[57] In June 2007, California, following the enactment in 2005 of a state law requiring state agencies to provide the same rights to domestic partners as married couples, became the first US state to allow same-sex conjugal visits. The new rules allowed for visits only by registered same-sex married couples or domestic partners provided that the same-sex marriage or domestic partnership was established before the prisoner was incarcerated. In April 2011, New York adopted to allow conjugal visits for same-sex partners who are married or in civil unions.

Military service[edit]

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.[58] Since September 20, 2011, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have been able to serve openly.[59] 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.[60]

Laws regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

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.[61] 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.[62]

Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah have yet to repeal or strike down their state's sodomy laws, although unenforceable due to the Supreme Court ruling.


Robert DeKoven, a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego was the first proponent for gays and lesbians in the United States to be redressed for what they have suffered through the years and decades of suppression and torture.[63] DeKoven cited the examples of the European Court of Human Rights as a model. New York University Professor Jacob Appel also fought for that cause in a mainstream media outlet.[64]

Public opinion[edit]

  Recent polls that show a majority of that state's population supports same-sex marriage.
  Recent polls that show a plurality of that state's population supports same-sex marriage.
  Recent polls that show a plurality of that state's population opposes same-sex marriage.
  Recent polls that show a majority of that state's population opposes same-sex marriage.
  No recent poll data.

A March 2014 public opinion poll by Washington Post/ABC News showed support for same-sex marriage at 59% among Americans,[65] and a February 2014 New York Times/CBS News opinion poll showed 56% support for same-sex marriage.[66] A November 2012 Gallup poll indicated 61% support for gays and lesbians being allowed to adopt children.[67]

Older polls showed that the nation could be divided into roughly equal thirds: one third supports same-sex marriage completely, another supports only civil unions, and the last is against any form of union entirely.[68][69] 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 same-sex marriage in Northeastern states, and Pacific Coast states. States that have consistently shown a majority support for same-sex marriage for at least the past few years include Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York,[70] New Jersey,[71] New Hampshire, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. While some of these states do not have same-sex marriage, Iowa, which does have same-sex marriage, does not have majority support; in fact, polls place support in the high forties (slightly lower 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 same-sex marriage (those under thirty have support placed above 60%).[72][73]


The main supports of gay rights in the U.S. have generally been political liberals and libertarians. 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 2014 found that 40% of Republicans supported same-sex marriage.[74] In 2013, 52% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents between the age of 18–49 years old supported same-sex marriage.[75]


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,[76] the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church),[77] the Southern Baptist Convention,[78] 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.[79]

U.S. political parties[edit]

US presidents[edit]

George Washington[edit]

Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

To train the new American Army in the latest military drills and tactics, General George Washington brought in Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730–94), who had been an officer on the German General staff. Von Steuben escaped Germany where he was threatened with prosecution for homosexuality. He joined Washington's army at Valley Forge in February 1778 accompanied by two young aides. Steuben became an American general, and a senior advisor to Washington. Despite rumors about his parties, there never was an investigation of Steuben and he received a Congressional pension after the war.[80][81]

The first evidence of antipathy to homosexuals serving in the United States military dates from March 11, 1778, when Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was brought to trial before a court-martial. According to General Washington's report: "...Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcolm's Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy ..." Washington's secretary continues to describe the results of the trial: "His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence & Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieut. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning...."[82]

John Adams[edit]


In 1801, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 that continued all criminal laws of Maryland and Virginia in the now formally structured District, with those of Maryland applying to that portion of the District ceded from Maryland, and those of Virginia applying to that portion ceded from Virginia. At the time, Maryland had a sodomy law applicable only to free males with a punishment of "labour for any time, in their discretion, not exceeding seven years for the same crime, on the public roads of the said county, or in making, repairing or cleaning the streets or bason [sic] of Baltimore-town" and the death penalty for salves committing sodomy, while Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for free persons committing sodomy, but had the death penalty for slaves committing sodomy. The law went into effect on February 27, 1801.[83]

Thomas Jefferson[edit]

Governorship of Virginia

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote a law in Virginia which contained a punishment of castration for men who engage in sodomy,[84] however, what was intended by Jefferson as a liberalization of the sodomy laws in Virginia at that time was rejected by the Virginia Legislature, which continued to prescribe death as the maximum penalty for the crime of sodomy in that state.[85]

Andrew Jackson[edit]


In 1831, Congress established penalties in the District of Columbia for a number of crimes, but not for sodomy. It specified that "every other felony, misdemeanor, or offence not provided for by this act, may and shall be punished as heretofore[.]" At the time, Maryland and Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for committing sodomy. It went into effect in March 2, 1831.[83]

Benjamin Harrison[edit]


In 1892, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that states that "for the preservation of the public peace and the protection of property within the District of Columbia." Labeled in the law as vagrants were "all public prostitutes, and all such persons who lead a notoriously lewd or lascivious course of life[.]" All offenders had to post bond of up to $200 for good behavior for a period of six months. The law went into effect on July 29, 1892.[83]

William McKinley[edit]


In 1898, Congress deleted the word "notoriously" from the provision concerning a lewd or lascivious course of life, thereby allowing prosecution of those without notoriety. The bond for good behavior was raised to $500, and the law was made clearly gender-neutral. The law went into effect on July 8, 1898.[83]

In 1901, Congress adopting a new code for the District of Columbia that expressly recognized common-law crimes, with a penalty for them of up to five years and/or a $1,000 fine. The law went into effect on March 3, 1901.[83]

Woodrow Wilson[edit]


On December 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Immigration Act of 1917, excluded individuals from entering the United States who were found "mentally defective" or who had a "constitutional psychopathic inferiority." A similar Public Health Service definition of homosexuals was used simultaneously by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reinforce the language of the Immigration Act of 1917 and effectively ban all homosexual immigrants who disclosed their sexual minority status. On February 5, 1917, the Congress overrode Wilson's veto, implementing the Immigration Act of 1917 into law.[86]

On March 1, 1917, the Articles of War of 1916 are implemented. This included a revision of the Articles of War of 1806, the new regulations detail statutes governing U.S. military discipline and justice. Under the category Miscellaneous Crimes and Offences, Article 93 states that any person subject to military law who commits "assault with intent to commit sodomy" shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.[87]

On June 4, 1920, Congress modified Article 93 of the Articles of War of 1916. It was changed to make the act of sodomy itself a crime, separate from the offense of assault with intent to commit sodomy.[87] It went into effect on February 4, 1921.[88]

Franklin Roosevelt[edit]

Assistant Secretary of the Navy

In 1919, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requests an investigation into "vice and depravity" in the sea services, which launches a sting operation in which undercover operatives attempt to seduce sailors suspected of being homosexual. At least 17 sailors are jailed and court-martialed before public outcry prompts the Senate to condemn the operation.[87]


In 1935, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that made it a crime for "any person to invite, entice, persuade, or to address for the purpose of inviting, enticing, or persuading any person or accompany, to go with, to follow him or her to his or her residence, or to any other house or building, inclosure, or other place, for the purpose of prostitution, or any other immoral or lewd purpose." It imposed a a fine of up to $100, up to 90 days in jail, and courts were permitted to "impose conditions" on anyone convicted under this law, including "medical and mental examination, diagnosis and treatment by proper public health and welfare authorities, and such other terms and conditions as the court may deem best for the protection of the community and the punishment, control, and rehabilitation of the defendant." The law went into effect on August 14, 1935.[83]

In 1941, Congress enacted a new solicitation law for the District of Columbia that labeled a "vagrant" any person who "engages in or commits acts of fornication or perversion for hire." The law went into effect on December 17, 1941.[83]

Harry Truman[edit]


In 1948, Congress enacted the first sodomy law in the District of Columbia, which established a penalty of up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $1,000 for sodomy. Also included with this sodomy law was a psychopathic offender law and a law "to provide for the treatment of sexual psychopaths in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes." The law went into effect on June 9, 1948.[83]

On May 5, 1950, the Uniform Code of Military Justice was passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, and became effective on May 31, 1951. Article 125 forbids sodomy among all military personnel, defining it as "any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offence."[87]

On June 25, 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was vetoed by President Truman because he regarded the bill as "un-American" and discriminatory. The bill prohibits "aliens afflicted with a psychopathic personality, epilepsy, or a mental defect" from entry into the United States.[89][90][91] Congress would later override his veto and implemented the act into law.[86]

Dwight Eisenhower[edit]


On April 27, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10450 which prohibits Federal employees from being members of a group or organization considered subversive. The order lists "sexual perversion" as a security risk constituting grounds for termination or denial of employment. The order went into effect on May 27, 1953.[87]

Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order responded to several years of charges that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. explained that the new order was designed to encompass both loyalty and security risks and he differentiated between the two: "Employees could be a security risk and still not be disloyal or have any traitorous thoughts, but it may be that their personal habits are such that they might be subject to blackmail by people who seek to destroy the safety of our country."[92]

The press recognized the revolutionary nature of the new executive order. The Washington Post said that it established not a loyalty test but a "suitability test." Some in government referred to their new "integrity-security" program. Some of those the press expected to be excluded from federal employment included "a person who drinks too much," "an incorrigible gossip," "homosexuals," and "neurotics."[92]

In 1953, Congress changed the solicitation law in the District of Columbia so that the jail term of up to 90 days was retained, but the maximum fine was raised to $250, and the reference to the power of judges to "impose conditions" on the defendant was removed. The law went into effect on June 29, 1953.[83]

Lyndon B. Johnson[edit]

Senator of Texas

On February 2, 1950, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson voted for Uniform Code of Military Justice.[93]


On October 19, 1964, Walter Jenkins, a longtime top aide to President Johnson, had been arrested by District of Columbia Police in a YMCA restroom. He and another man were booked on a disorderly conduct charge.[94]

In October 1964, Johnson released a statement of sympathy for Jenkins who "has worked with me faithfully for 25 years, with dedication, devotion and tireless labor" He also fed conspiracy theories that Jenkins had been framed. He claimed that before his arrest Jenkins had attended a cocktail party where the waiters came from the Republican National Committee, though the party was hosted by Newsweek to celebrate the opening of its new offices.[95] Johnson told Fortas that Jenkins needed to resign. On October 14, 1964, Jenkins resigned. Johnson immediately ordered a poll to determine the public's reaction to the affair and learned the next day that its effect on the voters was negligible.[96]

Johnson's Republican opponent in the 1964 presidential election, Barry Goldwater, knew Jenkins from the Senate and from serving as commanding officer of his Air Force Reserve unit, but initially denied knowing him.[97] He did not comment on the incident while campaigning, though it fit well with the charges he had been making of a lack of morality in Johnson's administration, though he was referring to Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes.[98] Instead, since FBI agents had just questioned him about Jenkins, he publicly asked Hoover to explain why Jenkins had not undergone a rigorous security check before joining the White House staff.[99]

Goldwater's campaign offices distributed bumper stickers and buttons bearing slogans such as, "LBJ - LIGHT BULB JENKINS: NO WONDER HE TURNED THE LIGHTS OUT" and "ALL THE WAY WITH LBJ, BUT DON'T GO NEAR THE YMCA". During the remainder of the campaign Goldwater occasionally alluded to the scandal. In speeches he referred to Johnson's "curious crew who would run the country" to the knowing amusement of his audience.[100] At the time, observers noted the difference between the way Goldwater alluded to the scandal and the way the Republican National Committee and Goldwater's running mate, William E. Miller, used it to exploit "popular fears."[101] Goldwater later said he chose not to make the incident a campaign issue. "It was a sad time for Jenkins' wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow," he wrote in his autobiography. "Winning isn't everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important."

Campaigning in San Diego on October 28, 1964, Johnson told reporters that "President Eisenhower had the same type of problem with his appointments secretary. The only difference is, we Democrats felt sorry for him and thought it was a case of sickness and disease, and we didn't try to capitalize on a man's misfortune. We never mentioned it."[102][103][104]

After the election, the American Mental Health Foundation wrote a letter to President Johnson protesting the "hysteria" surrounding the case:[105]

The private life and inclinations of a citizen, Government employee or not, does not necessarily have any bearing on his capacities, usefulness, and sense of responsibility in his occupation. The fact that an individual is homosexual, as has been strongly implied in the case of Mr. Jenkins, does not per se make him more unstable and more a security risk than any heterosexual person.

On October 3, 1965, Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which added "sexual deviation" as a medical ground for denying prospective immigrants entry into the United States. The bill went into effect on June 30, 1968.[86]

In 1966, Johnson still insisted vehemently in private that the Jenkins arrest resulted from a GOP frame-up and "someday we will prove it."[102]

Richard Nixon[edit]


In August 1970, Richard Nixon, on the issue of same-sex marriage, said "I can't go that far; that's the year 2000! Negroes [and whites], okay. But that's too far!"[106]

On May 13, 1971, in a conversation among President Richard Nixon, John D. Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman:

"Archie's Guys." Archie is sitting here with his hippie son-in-law, married to the screwball daughter. The son-in-law apparently goes both ways. This guy. He's obviously queer--wears an ascot--but not offensively so. Very clever. Uses nice language. Shows pictures of his parents. And so Arch goes down to the bar. Sees his best friend, who used to play professional football. Virile, strong, this and that. Then the fairy comes into the bar. I don't mind the homosexuality. I understand it. Nevertheless, goddamn, I don't think you glorify it on public television, homosexuality, even more than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But, goddammit, what do you think that does to kids? You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that. So was Socrates.

You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. Neither in a public way. You know what happened to the popes? They were layin' the nuns; that's been goin' on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell three or four centuries ago. It was homosexual, and it had to be cleaned out. That's what's happened to Britain. It happened earlier to France. Let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn, they root 'em out. They don't let 'em around at all. I don't know what they do with them. Look at this country. You think the Russians allow dope? Homosexuality, dope, immorality, are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and left-wingers are clinging to one another. They're trying to destroy us. I know Moynihan will disagree with this, [Attorney General John] Mitchell will, and Garment will. But, goddamn, we have to stand up to this.

But it's not just the ratty part of town. The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to time--it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco. Decorators. They got to do something. But we don't have to glorify it. You know one of the reasons fashions have made women look so terrible is because the goddamned designers hate women. Designers taking it out on the women. Now they're trying to get some more sexy things coming on again.

In 1972, San Francisco's Gay Activists Alliance disbanded and formed the Gay Voter's League, a group that campaigned for the reelection of President Richard Nixon.[108] In October 1972, representative of the Committee to Re-elect the President addressed gay voters on behalf of Richard M. Nixon's campaign in San Francisco. The event was organized by the Gay Voters League of San Francisco.[109]

Gerald Ford[edit]

House Minority Leader and Representative of Michigan's 5th congressional district

On August 25, 1965, Rep. Gerald Ford voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[110]


On March 5, 1976, when asked about the issue of gay rights, with respect to hiring, employment, and housing, Gerald Ford said "I recognize that this is a very new and serious problem in our society. I have always tried to be an understanding person as far as people are concerned who are different than myself. That doesn't mean that I agree with or would concur in what is done by them or their position in society. I think this is a problem we have to face up to, and I can't give you a pat answer tonight. I just would be dishonest to say that there is a pat answer under these very difficult circumstances"[111]

In 1976, during that year's presidential campaign, President Gerald Ford was "zapped" by activists in Ann Arbor, Michigan over federal immigration rules. The protests forced President Ford to admit that he was not aware that homosexuality was used as a basis for exclusion in immigration rulings.[108]

Post presidency

Gerald Ford, as former president, formally opposed the Briggs Initiative in 1977, which sought to ban homosexuals from teaching in public school. In October 2001, he 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.[112] 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".[113]

Jimmy Carter[edit]

Post governorship of Georgia

In February 1976, Carter said he opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but in June 1976 he withdrew his support of a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.[114]


President Jimmy Carter was the first president to progress gay rights. In 1977, under the guidance of Jimmy Carter, a policy was removed which barred employment of gays from employment in the foreign service and Internal Revenue Service ended its policy that forced LGBT education and charity groups to publicly state that homosexuality is a "sickness, disturbance, or diseased pathology." That same year, fourteen gay and lesbian activists were invited to the White House for the first official visit ever. Jimmy Carter publicly opposed the Briggs Initiative. In 1979, Carter appointed lesbian Jill Schropp to the National Advisory Council on Women. In March 1980, Carter issued a formal statement indicating he would not issue an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in the US federal government and that he would not support including a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.[114][115]

Post presidency

In 2004, Carter came out for civil unions and 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".[116] In 2007, he called for ending the ban on gays in the military.[117] In March 2012, Jimmy Carter came out in favor of same sex marriage.[118]

Ronald Reagan[edit]


Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, recounted that when she was eight or nine years old she and her father once watched an awkward kiss between Doris Day and Rock Hudson in a movie. Reagan explained to his daughter that the closeted Hudson would have preferred to kiss a man. "This was said in the same tone that would be used if he had been telling me about people with different colored eyes," recalled Davis, "and I accepted without question that this whole kissing thing wasn't reserved just for men and women."[119]

Post governorship of California

The first chapter of what would become the national Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) formed in 1978 to fight California's Briggs Initiative, a ballot initiative that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. The chapter worked diligently and successfully convinced Governor Reagan to publicly oppose the measure.[108] Reagan penned an op-ed against the so-called Briggs Initiative in which he wrote, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."[119]


On the 1980 campaign trail, he spoke of the gay civil rights movement:

My criticism is that [the gay movement] isn’t just asking for civil rights; it’s asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.[120]

No civil rights legislation for LGBT individuals passed during Reagan's tenure. 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."[121]

In 1981, during Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party, White House interior decorator, Ted Graber, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case.[119]

George H. W. Bush[edit]

Vice presidency

In 1988, the Republican Party's nominee, Vice President George H. W. Bush, endorsed a plan to protect persons with AIDS from discrimination.[108]


As President, George H. W. Bush signed legislation that extended gay rights. On April 23, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. It was the first federal statute to "recognize and name gay, lesbian and bisexual people.".[122] On July 26, 1990, George H. W. Bush singed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On November 29, 1990, Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which withdrew the phrase "sexual deviation" from the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) so that it could no longer be used as a basis for barring entry of immigration to the U.S. for homosexuals.[108]

In a television interview, Bush said if he found out his grandchild he would "love his child", but tell him homosexuality wasn't normal and discourage him from working for gay rights. In February 1992, the chairman of the Bush-Quayle campaign meet with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.[114] In May 1992, he appointed Anne-Imelda Radice to serve as the Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.[123] Losing ground in the 1992 Republican president primary to President Bush's far-right challenger, Pat Buchanan, the Bush campaign turned to the right, and President Bush publicly denounced same-sex marriage.[124] 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.[125] Many in the gay community believed President Bush hadn't had done enough on the issue of AIDS. Urvashi Vaid argues that Bush's anti-gay rhetoric "motivated conservative gay Democrats and loyal gay Republicans, who had helped defeat Dukakis in 1988, to throw their support behind Clinton."[114]

In 1992, the City Council passed the "The Health Benefits Expansion Act", which was signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill, which established domestic partnerships in the District of Columbia, became law on June 11, 1992. Every year from 1992 to 2000, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act.[126] On October 5, 1992, Bush signed the H.R. 6056 into law, which included the Republican rider to the appropriations bill.[127]

Post presidency

In 2013, former President George H. W. Bush served as a witness at a same-sex wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, who own a general store together in Maine.[128]

Bill Clinton[edit]

Governorship of Arkansas

In 1992, Governor Bill Clinton, as a candidate for President, issued a public statement of support for repeal of Arkansas's sodomy law.[129] Also in 1992, the Human Rights Campaign, American's largest LGBT rights organization, issued it's first presidential endorsement in 1992 to Bill Clinton.[130]


Bill Clinton's legacy on gay rights is a matter of controversy. LGBT rights activist Richard Socarides credits Clinton as the first President to publicly champion gay rights,[130] but 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.[131]

In December 1993, Clinton implemented a Department of Defense directive known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which allowed gay men and women to serve in the armed services provided they kept their sexuality a secret, and forbade the military from inquiring about an individual's sexual orientation.[132] The policy was developed as a compromise after Clinton's proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military met with staunch opposition from prominent Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sam Nunn (D-GA). According to David Mixner, Clinton's support for the compromise led to a heated dispute with Vice President Al Gore, who felt that "the President should lift the ban ... even though [his executive order] was sure to be overriden by the Congress".[133] Some gay-rights advocates criticized Clinton for not going far enough and accused him of making his campaign promise to get votes and contributions.[134] Their position was that Clinton should have integrated the military by executive order, noting that President Harry Truman used executive order to racially desegregate the armed forces. Clinton's defenders argue that an executive order might have prompted the Senate to write the exclusion of gays into law, potentially making it harder to integrate the military in the future.[135] Later in his presidency, in 1999, Clinton criticized the way the policy was implemented, saying he did not think any serious person could say it was not "out of whack".[136]

In 1992, the City Council passed the "The Health Benefits Expansion Act", which was signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill, which established domestic partnerships in the District of Columbia, became law on June 11, 1992. Every year from 1992 to 2000, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act.[126] From 1993 to 2000, Bill Clinton signed each District of Columbia appropriation bill into law, but viewed it as highly objectionable provision into the affairs of the District of Columbia.[137] The law was finally implemented in fiscal year 2002 after Congress failed to add the rider to the appropriations bill, which included the Republican rider to the appropriations bill.[138]

On September 21, 1996, Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman, allowing individual states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.[139] Paul Yandura, speaking for the White House gay and lesbian liaison office, said that Clinton's signing of DOMA "was a political decision that they made at the time of a re-election." In defense of his actions, Clinton has said that DOMA was an attempt to "head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states", a possibility he described as highly likely in the context of a "very reactionary Congress."[140] Administration spokesman Richard Socarides said, "... the alternatives we knew were going to be far worse, and it was time to move on and get the president re-elected."[141] Others were more critical. The veteran gay rights and gay marriage activist Evan Wolfson has called these claims "historic revisionism".[141] In a July 2, 2011 editorial The New York Times opined, "The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 as an election-year wedge issue, signed by President Bill Clinton in one of his worst policy moments."[142]

Despite DOMA, Clinton, who was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions,[143] is generally credited as the first President to publicly champion gay rights.[130] During his Presidency, Clinton controversially issued two substantial executive orders on behalf of gay rights, the first was in 1995 that lifted the ban on security clearances for LGBT federal employees[144] and the second was in 1998 that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce.[145] Under President Clinton's leadership, federal funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment more than doubled.[146] And Clinton also pushed for passing hate crimes laws for gays and for the private sector Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, buoyed by his lobbying, failed to pass the Senate by a single vote in 1996.[147] Advocacy for these issues, paired with the politically unpopular nature of the gay rights movement at the time, led to enthusiastic support for Clinton's reelection in 1996 by the Human Rights Campaign.[130]

Clinton was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions, appointing over 150 LGBT appointees.[148] The first openly gay US ambassador, James Hormel, received a recess appointment from the President after the Senate failed to confirm the nomination.

On June 2, 2000, Clinton declared June to be LGBT Pride Month, the first president to do so.[149]

Post presidency

In 2008, Clinton publicly opposed the passage of California's Proposition 8 and recorded robocalls urging Californians to vote against it.[150] In July 2009, he came out in favor of same-sex marriage.[151] On March 7, 2013, Clinton called for the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act by the US Supreme Court.[152]

George W. Bush[edit]

In 1994, Bush pledged to veto any effort to repeal an Texas's sodomy law, calling it “a symbolic gesture of traditional values.”[153]

Governorship of Texas

In 1997, Governor Bush signed into law a bill adding "A license may not be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex" into the Texas Family Code.[154]

In a 1998 Texas Gubernatorial election political awareness test, he answered no to the questions of whether Texas government should include sexual orientation in Texas' anti-discrimination laws and whether he supports Texas recognizing same-sex marriage.[155]

In 1999, the Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which would have increased punishment for criminals motivated by hatred of a victim’s gender, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation, was killed in committee by Texas Senate Republicans. Governor Bush was criticized for letting the hate crimes bill die in a Texas Senate committee. Bush spokesman Sullivan said the governor never took a position on the bill. According to Louvon Harris, sister of James Byrd, said that Bush’s opposition to the bill reportedly revolved around the fact that it would cover gays and lesbians. The governor’s office “contacted the family and asked if we would consider taking sexual orientation out of the bill, and our answer was no, because the bill is for everybody. Everybody should be protected by the law.” said Harris. In a 2000 presidential debate, Al Gore would attack Bush for allowing the bill to die in committee, with Bush responding Texas already had a hate crimes statute, and nothing more was needed.[153] George W. Bush also stated his opposition New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that said the Boy Scouts of America must accept gays in their organization. “I believe the Boy Scouts is a private organization and they should be able to set the standards that they choose to set,” Bush said.[156] Bush would also express his support bans gay foster parenting and adoption.[157]

During the 2000 campaign he did not endorse a single piece of gay rights legislation. In a 2000 Republican presidential debate, George W. Bush, said he opposes same-sex marriage, but supports state's rights when it came to the issue of same-sex marriage. During the campaign he had refused to comment on Vermont’s civil unions law.[156] On April 13, 2000, Governor Bush became first presumptive GOP presidential nominee ever to meet publicly with gay Republicans in Austin, Texas.[158] On August 4, 2000, Bush received the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's largest gay group, for president.[159] He also received the endorsement of the newly formed Republican Unity Coalition.[159][160] In a 2000 presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush stated he supported the Defense of Marriage Act, "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and reversed his position on sodomy laws.[156][161][162]


George W. Bush was either neutral towards or opposed gay rights as president. In his eight years of office, Bush's 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 Bush's critics felt as if he failed to enforce the executive order.[163] He retained Clinton’s Office of National AIDS Policy and 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.[164] 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. He did not repeal any of the spousal benefits that Clinton had introduced for same-sex federal employees. He did not attempt to repeal Don't ask, don't tell, nor make an effort to change it.[156]

In April 2002, White House officials held an unannounced briefing in April for the Log Cabin Republicans. On June 27, 2002, President Bush has signed a bill allowing death benefits to be paid to domestic partners of firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty, permanently extending a federal death benefit to same-sex couples for the first time.[165]

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws against consenting adults was unconstitutional. President Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer refused to comment on the decision, noting only that the administration had not filed a brief in the case.[166] In 2004, Bush said “What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do,”[167]

Previously Bush said he state's rights when it came to marriage, however, after Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, on February 24, 2004, Bush announced his support for an amendment to the US Constitution banning same-sex marriage.[168] Due to his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Log Cabin Republicans declined to endorse the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004.[125] Bush's defense of the FMA led the group to vote 22 to 2 against an endorsement of his reelection.[169] The Palm Beach County chapter in Florida did endorse him, resulting in the revocation of their charter.[170] On September 22, 2004, the Abe Lincoln Black Republican Caucus (ALBRC), a group of young urban Black gay Republicans, voted in a special call meeting in Dallas, Texas, to endorse President Bush for re-election.[171] In an October president debate, Bush said he didn't know whether homosexuality is a choice or not.[156] On October 24, 2004, Bush announced his support for civil unions.[172]

In 2007, Bush threatened to veto the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, which would have included sexual orientation in hate crimes, and Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.

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.[173]

Post presidency

In his post presidency interviews, he refused to take a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.[174][175]

Barack Obama[edit]

Illinois state senator

Obama supported legalizing same-sex marriage when he first ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996.[176] When he ran for re-election to the Illinois Senate in 1998, was undecided about legalizing same-sex marriage and supported including sexual orientation to the states non-discrimination laws.[177][178] During his time as a state senator he cosponsored of a bill amending the Illinois Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBT people which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, and all public places and supported Illinois gender violence act.

Illinois US senator

Obama supported civil unions, but opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and for U.S. President in 2008.[176] He supports civil unions that would carry equal legal standing to that of marriage for same-sex couples, but believes that decisions about the title of marriage should be left to the states.[179][180]

During his time as senator, Obama co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, and Early Treatment for HIV Act.[181][182]

In the 109th United States Congress, Obama received a score of 89% by the Human Rights Campaign.[182]

In 2006, Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the US Constitution.[183]

In 2007, Senator Obama said he opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Don't ask, don't tell policy when it passed and supported repealing it. He also said that homosexuality is not a choice, support adoption rights for same-sex couples, and would work as president to extend the 1,000 federal rights granted to marriage couples to couples in civil unions. He also voted for Kennedy Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that would expand federal jurisdiction to reach serious, violent hate crimes perpetrated because of the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity and the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act.[178][181]

In the 2008 presidential election, he expressed his opposition to state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in California, and Florida on the November ballot,[184][185][186] but stated in a 2008 interview that he personally believes that marriage is "between a man and a woman" and that he is "not in favor of gay marriage."[187] In the 110th United States Congress, Obama received a score of 94% by the Human Rights Campaign.[182] In the 2008 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Houston GLBT Political Caucus,[188] Human Rights Campaign,[189] and the National Stonewall Democrats.[190][191]


President Barack Obama has taken a definitive pro-LGBT rights stance. When Obama became president his administration in 2009, in a reversal of Bush administration policy, signed the U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality in March 2009.[192] In June 2009, Obama declared the month of June to be LGBT pride month.[193] He would continue this policy in June 2010,[194] June 2011,[195] June 2012,[196] and June 2013.[197]

On October 28, 2009, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the federal hate crimes law.[198]

Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay woman in her position, was formally nominated the U.S. marshal for the Minnesota district by President Obama[199] on October 2009 and then confirmed by the Senate in December 2009. On January 4, 2010, Amanda Simpson was appointed by Obama the Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce, being the first openly transgender person appointed to a government post by a US President.[200][201][202] He has appointed the most U.S. gay officials of any US president.[203]

At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On April 15, 2010, Obama 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.[204] In June 2010, he expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners.[205] On December 22, 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law.[206]

On February 23, 2011, President Obama instructs Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.[207]

In March and April 2012, he expressed his opposition to state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in North Carolina, and Minnestoa.[208]

On May 9, 2012, Obama stated in an ABC interview that he supports same-sex marriage, being the first US President to ever do so while still in office. In the interview, Obama stated, "over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, 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."[209] In the 2012 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Equal Rights Washington, Fair Wisconsin, Gay-Straight Alliance,[210][211] Human Rights Campaign,[212] and the National Stonewall Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave Obama a score of 100% on the issue of gays and lesbians in the US military and a score of 75% on the issue of freedom to marry for gay people.[213]

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.[214][215]

On March 1, 2013, Obama, speaking about Hollingsworth v. Perry, the US Supreme Court case about Proposition 8, he said “When the Supreme Court asks do you think that the California law, which doesn’t provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they’re same-sex couples -- if the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, ‘Do we think that meets constitutional muster?’ I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly,” Obama said. “And the answer is no.” A total of 38 states prohibit same-sex marriage, either by law or voter referendum, and the administration's brief does not label them all unconstitutional. But it does say the high court should apply "heightened scrutiny" to California's ban—a standard under which legal experts say no state ban could survive.[216] ON August 8, 2013, Obama publicly criticized Russia's anti-gay law.[217]

On December 26, 2013, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 into law, which repealed the ban on consensual sodomy in the UCMJ.[218] On February 16, 2014, Obama publicly criticized Uganda's anti-gay law.[219]

Obama has received criticism for failing to sign an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for federal contractors.[220]

Democratic Party[edit]

The Democratic Party's 2012 national platform opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and supports "equal responsibility, benefits, and protections" for same-sex couples,[221] and explicitly supports same-sex marriage.[222]

National Stonewall Democrats[edit]

Republican Party[edit]

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.[223]

Log Cabin Republicans[edit]

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. GOProud supports repealing DOMA, supports same-sex marriage, and believes marriage should be left to the states. GOProud also has no official position on Employment Nondiscrimination Act or hate-crime legislation.

Libertarian Party[edit]

The Libertarian Party has endorsed libertarian perspectives on LGBT rights and has promoted marriage equality since it was created in 1971. The Libertarian Party also wishes to lift the bans, but with the ultimate goal of marriage privatization.[224]

Outright Libertarians[edit]

Constitution Party[edit]

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.

Lavender Greens[edit]

Other political parties[edit]

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.

See also[edit]



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