Same-sex marriage in the United States

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Legal recognition of
same-sex relationships

· Denmark proper
· DF,1 QR1
· Netherlands proper2
New Zealand:
· New Zealand proper

South Africa
United Kingdom:
· England and Walesα
United States:
· CA, CT, DE, DC,
· HI, IL,β IA, ME, MD,
· MA, MN, NH, NJ,
· NM, NY, RI, VT,
· WA, 8 tribes

  • United States:

· Federal government,
· KY,γ OR

  1. Valid in all of Mexico
  2. Can be registered also in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten

Commencement dates:
  1. March 13, 2014
  2. Cook County: February 21, 2014; rest of state: June 1, 2014
  3. March 20, 2014
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Legal recognition of
same-sex relationships

· Denmark proper
· DF,1 QR1
· Netherlands proper2
New Zealand:
· New Zealand proper

South Africa
United Kingdom:
· England and Walesα
United States:
· CA, CT, DE, DC,
· HI, IL,β IA, ME, MD,
· MA, MN, NH, NJ,
· NM, NY, RI, VT,
· WA, 8 tribes

  • United States:

· Federal government,
· KY,γ OR

  1. Valid in all of Mexico
  2. Can be registered also in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten

Commencement dates:
  1. March 13, 2014
  2. Cook County: February 21, 2014; rest of state: June 1, 2014
  3. March 20, 2014
LGBT portal

Same-sex marriage is legally recognized in some jurisdictions within the United States and by the federal government.[1] Seventeen states[2] (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington), as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized same-sex marriage; in Illinois, although same-sex marriage is currently in effect in Cook County,[n 1] it goes into effect for the rest of the state on June 1, 2014.[n 2] Eight Native American tribal jurisdictions[n 3] issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Oregon recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Limited recognition has been granted to out-of-state same-sex marriages in Ohio,[3] Missouri,[4] and Colorado.[5] Same-sex marriages performed in Utah while they were legal are recognized for 2013 tax purposes only.[6]

United States district courts in Utah,[7] Oklahoma,[8] Virginia,[9] and Texas[10] have declared state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional; and each ruling has been stayed from enforcement pending appeals. More than 1,300 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Utah before the Supreme Court stayed the court's order on January 6, 2014.[11] On February 12, 2014, a federal court in Kentucky declared the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions unconstitutional, and suggested that the state's ban on performing same-sex marriages within its borders would not survive a constitutional challenge.[12]

While many jurisdictions have legalized same-sex civil marriage through court rulings, legislative action, and popular vote, four states prohibit same-sex civil marriage by statute and 29 prohibit it in their constitutions.[13] The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states. Section 3 of DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages until that provision was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, in United States v. Windsor.[14][15]

The movement to obtain civil marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples in the United States began in the 1970s,[16] but became more prominent in American politics in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared the state's prohibition to be unconstitutional in Baehr v. Lewin.[17] On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state and the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage following the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health six months earlier.[18] During the 21st century, public support for same-sex civil marriage has grown considerably,[19][20] and national polls conducted since 2011 show that a majority of Americans support legalizing it. On May 9, 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to publicly declare support for the legalization of same-sex civil marriage.[21] On November 6, 2012, Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex civil marriage through popular vote.

Legal issues[edit]

Civil same-sex marriage ceremony being performed in San Francisco City Hall in June 2008.

Federal law[edit]

The legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage in the United States are determined by the nation's federal system of government, in which the status of a person (including marriage) in general is determined by the individual states. Prior to 1996, the federal government did not define marriage; any marriage recognized by a state was recognized by the federal government, even if that marriage was not recognized by one or more other states (as was the case with interracial marriage before 1967 due to anti-miscegenation laws). With the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, a marriage was explicitly defined in federal law as a union of one man and one woman.[22]

DOMA was challenged in the federal court system. On July 8, 2010, Judge Joseph Tauro of the District Court of Massachusetts held that the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married Massachusetts same-sex couples is unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[23][24] Since 2010, eight federal courts have found DOMA to be unconstitutional on issues including bankruptcy, public employee benefits, estate taxes, and immigration.[25][26][27] On October 18, 2012, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals became the first court[28] to hold sexual orientation to be a quasi-suspect classification and applied intermediate scrutiny to strike down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional in Windsor v. United States.[29] Windsor and four other federal cases were considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court,[30][31] which, in its June 26, 2013, decision in Windsor, held Section 3 to be a violation of the Fifth Amendment.[32]

According to the federal government's Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2004, more than 1,138 rights and protections are conferred to U.S. citizens upon marriage by the federal government; areas affected include Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave, and immigration law.[33]

Many aspects of marriage law are determined by the states, rather than the federal government. The Defense of Marriage Act does not prevent individual states from defining marriage as they see fit. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Baker v. Nelson, a same-sex marriage case filed in Minnesota, "for want of a substantial federal question."[34] In doing so, the court upheld the state of Minnesota's right to restrict marriage to different-sex couples.[35]

On November 15, 2013, a U.S. district court in Pennsylvania denied a motion to dismiss in a same-sex marriage case, put forth by defendants who argued that Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent. The court said that "[t]he jurisprudence of equal protection and substantive due process has undergone what can only be characterized as a sea change since 1972," allowing the case to proceed to trial in 2014.[36]

Marriage laws in states that do not permit or recognize same-sex marriage have led to court challenges, including Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenged the validity of California's Proposition 8 under the United States Constitution,[37] Sevcik v. Sandoval, which challenges Nevada's system of marriage for different-sex couples and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples under the equal protection clause,[38] and others.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have worked to prevent individual states from recognizing same-sex unions by attempting to amend the United States Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In 2006, the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote and was debated by the full United States Senate, but was ultimately defeated in both Houses of Congress.[39]

State laws[edit]

State laws regarding same-sex partnerships in the United States*
  Same-sex marriage allowed1
  Same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions allowed2
  Legislation granting limited rights to same-sex couples
  Same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized3
  Judicial ruling against a same-sex marriage ban stayed pending appeal
  No specific prohibition or recognition of same-sex marriages or unions in territory law
  State statute bans same-sex marriage
  State constitution bans same-sex marriage
  State constitution bans 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 Same-sex marriage in Illinois begins June 1, 2014, but has already begun in Cook County. 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 A U.S. district court ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, but enforcement of the ruling is stayed until March 20.

As of February 28, 2014, sixteen state governments (those of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, and New Mexico) along with the District of Columbia routinely issue same-sex marriage licenses. Illinois will begin regularly issuing licenses in June 2014, while Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas are awaiting appellate court decisions after lower courts ruled in favor of allowing such licenses.

All jurisdictions in the Northeast Corridor, except for Pennsylvania, have legalized same-sex marriage. Prior to 2004, same-sex civil marriage was not recognized in any U.S. jurisdiction. It has since been legalized in different jurisdictions through legislation, court ruling,[40] tribal council rulings,[41] and upheld by popular vote in a statewide referendum in three of these states.[42][43]

Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin have created legal unions for same-sex couples that offer varying subsets of the rights and responsibilities of marriage under the laws of those jurisdictions.


Early history[edit]

In 1998, in response to the Hawaii Supreme Court's ruling in Baehr v. Miike, Hawaii voters approved a state constitutional amendment ("Amendment 2") allowing their legislature to ban same-sex marriage.[44] In 2003, the US Supreme Court struck down Texas' "Homosexual Conduct" law[45] in Lawrence v. Texas.[46] The ruling effectively nullified similar same-sex sodomy laws in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri along with broader sodomy laws in nine other states.[47]

Same-sex marriage was first recognized by a United States jurisdiction on November 18, 2003, pursuant to the ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.[48]

On May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court of California issued a decision in which it effectively legalized same-sex marriage in California, holding that California's existing opposite-sex definition of marriage violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.[49][50] Same-sex marriage opponents in California placed a state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot for the purpose of restoring an opposite-sex definition of marriage.[51] (Proposition 8 was somewhat unusual compared to other initiatives connected to same-sex marriage, since California had ratified same-sex marriages and Proposition 8 was a response intended to subsequently re-remove the right of marriage.) Proposition 8 was passed on Election Day 2008, as were proposed marriage-limiting amendments in Florida and Arizona.[52]

On August 4, 2010, a decision by the U.S. District Court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.[53] The decision in that case was upheld at appeal and – as the State of California decided not to appeal or defend Proposition 8 – the voters who initially instigated the initiative appealed to the Supreme Court, which asked to be briefed for arguments concerning the appellants' standing, and heard oral arguments on March 26, 2013.[54] In accordance with numerous precedent cases rejecting the concept of proponents' standing to defend a challenged law in Federal court, the Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of standing in a decision issued June 26, 2013,[55] after which same-sex marriage once again became legal in California.[56] Proposition 8 supporters have expressed the intent to fight on (for example by asserting the ruling only applies to the persons or counties involved), but this was rejected by California's Attorney General Kamala Harris, who noted that "state officials are obligated to govern marriage equally in all counties and that Walker's ruling specifically covers those officials".[57] Same-sex marriages resumed on June 28, 2013.[58]

On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the state's civil unions statute as unconstitutionally discriminatory against same-sex couples, and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages.[59] The following year, the state general assembly passed gender-neutral marriage legislation, which the state's Republican governor signed into law.[60] Same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa following the unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court in Varnum v. Brien on April 3, 2009.[61] This decision was initially scheduled to take effect on April 24, but the date was changed to April 27 for administrative reasons.[62] On December 18, 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was signed into law by the Mayor of the District of Columbia;[63] same-sex marriage licenses became available in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2010.[64]

By 2009, New England became the center of an organized push to legalize same-sex marriage,[65] which was achieved in all six states in that region. On April 7, 2009, Vermont legalized same-sex marriage through legislation. The Governor of Vermont had previously vetoed the measure, but the veto was overridden by the Legislature. Vermont became the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means rather than litigation. On May 6, 2009, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, becoming the first state governor to do so.[66] Nonetheless, the legislation was stayed pending a vote and never went into effect. It was repealed by referendum in November 2009.[40] On June 3, 2009, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.[67]


As of January 2010, 29 states had constitutional provisions restricting marriage to one man and one woman, while 12 others had statutes that did so.[68] Nineteen states banned any legal recognition of same-sex unions that would be equivalent to civil marriage.[69] In 28 out of 30 states where constitutional amendments or initiatives that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman were put on the ballot in a referendum, voters approved such amendments.[n 4] Arizonans voted down one such amendment in 2006,[70] but approved a different amendment to that effect in 2008.[71] In 2012, Minnesota became the second state to reject an amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriage, though Democrats increased their numbers in the legislature in the same election, leading to the May 2013 enactment of same-sex marriage legislation there.[72] A bill that would have legalized same sex marriage in New Jersey was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie on February 17, 2012[73] before a New Jersey Superior Court ruling led to its legalization in October 2013.

Prior to the November 2012 election, Maryland recognized same-sex marriages formed in other jurisdictions, but did not allow forming such marriages within its borders.[74] New York had been in a similar situation as its courts had held that same-sex marriages conducted in states where they are legal must be recognized by those states, but that the state statutes did not allow the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses,[75] a situation which changed when its legislature legalized granting licenses to same-sex couples in 2011.

On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as well as all other types of same-sex unions. The North Carolina vote was held on the same day as the Republican Presidential primary (which was won by Romney),[76] therefore disproportionally drawing more Republicans to this special election. The amendment was approved 61.04% to 38.96%, with a voter turnout of 34.66%.[77] North Carolina already prohibited same-sex marriages by statute.

In the regular November 2012 elections, however, state voters for the first time approved same-sex marriage by popular vote, in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Maine's law took effect on December 29, 2012.[78] By law, Maryland started allowing same-sex marriages on January 1, 2013,[79] The Washington legislature had enacted legislation that would institute same-sex marriage in the state in February 2012, but the enactment was stayed pending a voter referendum, which passed. The referendum was certified on December 5, 2012, and the first licenses were distributed on December 9.[80][81] In the same election, Minnesota became the second state to reject a statewide constitutional ban against same-sex marriage by a popular vote.[82][83]

Several governments enacted same-sex marriage in 2013. The Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians of Michigan voted in March 2013 to legalize same-sex marriages under their tribal jurisdiction, although the state maintained that it would not recognize the marriages.[41] The Rhode Island legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on May 2, which took effect August 1;[84] Delaware enacted legislation on May 7, which took effect July 1;[85] and Minnesota enacted legislation on May 14, which took effect August 1.[86] In July 2013, a court clerk in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with the rationale that the state marriage statutes are unconstitutional,[87] but his action was overruled by a state intermediate appellate court in September and he was ordered to cease issuing the licenses.[88]

New Jersey began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on October 21, 2013, following a September 27 state superior court decision which found an equal protection guarantee for same-sex couples. Governor Chris Christie originally filed an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court, but withdrew it after the court declined to issue a stay on the lower court's ruling.[89][90][91][92]

In October and November 2013, both houses of the Hawaii legislature enacted legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, which Governor Neil Abercrombie signed on November 13. The law took effect on December 2, 2013.[93] The Illinois General Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on November 5, 2013. The House of Representatives narrowly passed an amended version of an earlier Senate bill 61–54–2 with the Senate approving the House version 32–21 only about an hour later. Governor Pat Quinn signed the legislation on November 20.[94] On February 21, 2014 U.S District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that same-sex couples in Cook County, which includes Illinois' largest city Chicago, can obtain marriage licenses immediately and need not wait until the law's June 1 effective date.[95] On February 26, 2014, a Champaign County clerk began issuing same-sex marriage licenses after consulting the State's Attorney and concluding that the Cook County order is applicable.[96]

In 2013, certain New Mexico counties, either on the basis of a court decision or their clerks' own volition, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In August 2013, Doña Ana County[97] and Santa Fe County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the latter through a court order.[98][99][100][101][102] Although opponents filed for an injunction,[103] same-sex marriage expanded to a total of eight New Mexico counties.[104] On December 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, effective immediately, same-sex marriage would be permitted throughout the state.[105]

On December 20, 2013, Judge Robert J. Shelby of the U.S. District Court for Utah struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional in Kitchen v. Herbert.[106] Salt Lake County began issuing marriage licenses immediately, followed by other counties.[107] After failing to get the District Court or the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the decision pending appeal, Utah state officials asked for a stay from the United States Supreme Court, which granted the request on January 6, 2014.[7][108] The stay allowed Utah to reinstate its ban on same-sex marriage and deny state services to married same-sex couples.[109] On January 10, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who married in Utah between December 20, 2013, and January 6, 2014.[110] The Tenth Circuit ordered the appeals process to be heard on an expedited basis[111] and set a briefing schedule to be completed by February 25.[112]

On January 14, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Terence C. Kern ruled in Bishop v. Oklahoma that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. He stayed his ruling pending appeal.[8] On January 23, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the state would reverse its position and support a federal lawsuit challenging the Virginia state constitution's ban on same-sex marriage.[113] On January 21, a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, considering issues unrelated to marriage in SmithKline Beecham Corporation v. Abbott Laboratories, ruled that distinctions based on sexual orientation are subject to the "heightened scrutiny" standard of review.[114] In response to that decision, on February 10, Nevada State Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto withdrew the state's brief in Sevcik v. Sandoval, ending its defense of the state's ban on same-sex marriage.[115] On February 12, 2014, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn declared Kentucky's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions unconstitutional, and suggested that the state's ban on performing same-sex marriages within its borders would not survive a constitutional challenge.[116][117] On February 27, 2014, Judge Heyburn issued an order requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions,[118] but the next day he stayed that order until March 20.[119]

On February 13, 2014, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. She stayed the ruling in Bostic v. Rainey pending appeal.[120] On February 26, Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in De Leon v. Perry that Texas' ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, "[w]ithout a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose", and stayed enforcement of his ruling pending appeal to the Fifth Circuit.[121][122][123]

States that license same-sex marriage (table)[edit]

Note: This table shows only states that perform same-sex marriages or have legalized it. It does not include states that recognize same-sex marriages but do not perform them.

States (and D.C.) with same-sex marriage
State or federal districtState population
(US Census estimate 2013[124])
Legalization dateEffective dateLegalization method
1. Massachusetts6,692,824November 18, 2003May 17, 2004Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.
2. California38,332,521May 15, 2008June 16, 2008California Supreme Court ruling in in re Marriage Cases. Same-sex marriages were permitted for some months until they were curtailed upon the passage of Proposition 8 on November 5, 2008.
August 4, 2010June 28, 2013In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional on August 4, 2010. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeal in the 9th Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the official proponents of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal in federal court due to a lack of direct injury required by well-established precedential standards. (June 26, 2013) Same-sex marriages resumed on June 28, 2013.[58]
3. Connecticut3,596,080October 10, 2008November 12, 2008Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, subsequently passed by the Connecticut General Assembly as Public Act 09-13.
4. Iowa3,090,416April 3, 2009April 27, 2009Iowa Supreme Court ruling in Varnum v. Brien.
5. Vermont626,630April 7, 2009September 1, 2009Passed by the Vermont General Assembly (overriding Governor Douglas' veto).
6. New Hampshire1,323,459June 3, 2009January 1, 2010Passed by the New Hampshire General Court.
- District of Columbia646,449December 18, 2009March 9, 2010Passed by the Council of the District of Columbia.
7. New York19,651,127June 24, 2011July 24, 2011Passed by the New York State Legislature (Marriage Equality Act (New York)).
8.Washington (state) Washington6,971,406November 6, 2012December 6, 2012Passed by the Washington State Legislature; approved by voters in Referendum 74.
9. Maine1,328,302December 29, 2012Approved by voters in Question 1 (2012).
10. Maryland5,928,814January 1, 2013Passed by the Maryland General Assembly and upheld by voters in Question 6 referendum.
11. Rhode Island1,051,511May 2, 2013August 1, 2013Passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly.
12. Delaware925,749May 7, 2013July 1, 2013Passed by the Delaware General Assembly.
13. Minnesota5,420,380May 14, 2013August 1, 2013Passed by the Minnesota Legislature.
14. New Jersey8,899,339September 27, 2013October 21, 2013New Jersey Superior Court ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow.
15. Hawaii1,404,054November 13, 2013December 2, 2013Passed by the Hawaii State Legislature (Hawaii Marriage Equality Act).
16. Illinois12,882,135November 20, 2013June 1, 2014Passed by the Illinois General Assembly.
17. New Mexico2,085,287December 19, 2013December 19, 2013New Mexico Supreme Court ruling in Griego v. Oliver.
(38.23% of the U.S. population)

States with stayed rulings to allow same-sex marriage[edit]

Note: This table only lists states where a court has ruled the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional while staying enforcement of its ruling pending appeal.

States with stayed rulings for same-sex marriage
StateState population
(US Census estimate 2013[124])
Ruling dateStayed from dateCourt ruling
1. Utah2,900,872December 20, 2013January 6, 2014United States District Court for the District of Utah ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert.[125] District Court's order stayed on January 6, 2014, by the United States Supreme Court pending appeal. About 1,400 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah in the 17 days before the stay was issued.[126]
2. Oklahoma3,814,820January 14, 2014January 14, 2014United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma ruling in Bishop v. Oklahoma.[127] Enforcement stayed in initial ruling, referencing the Supreme Court's stay in Kitchen v. Herbert.
3. Virginia8,260,405February 13, 2014February 13, 2014United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruling in Bostic v. Rainey.[128] Enforcement stayed in initial ruling, referencing the Supreme Court's stay in Kitchen v. Herbert.
4. Texas26,448,193February 26, 2014February 26, 2014United States District Court for the Western District of Texas ruling in De Leon v. Perry.[129] Enforcement stayed in initial ruling, referencing the Supreme Court's stay in Kitchen v. Herbert.
(13.10% of the U.S. population)

Tribal laws[edit]

In the United States, federally recognized Native American tribes have the legal right to form their own marriage laws.[130] There are eight tribal jurisdictions that legally recognize same-sex marriage: the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes,[131] the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation,[132] the Coquille Tribe,[133] the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians,[134] the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians,[135] the Santa Ysabel Tribe,[136] the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe,[137] and the Suquamish tribe.[138]



Rally for same-sex marriage (May 2009, San Francisco, California)

Same-sex marriage supporters make several arguments in support of their position. Gail Mathabane likens prohibitions on same-sex marriage to past U.S. prohibitions on interracial marriage.[139] Fernando Espuelas argues that same-sex marriage should be allowed because same-sex marriage extends a civil right to a minority group.[140] According to an American history scholar, Nancy Cott, "there really is no comparison, because there is nothing that is like marriage except marriage."[141]

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is one of the leading advocacy groups in support of same-sex marriage. According to the HRC's website, "Many same-sex couples want the right to legally marry because they are in love—many, in fact, have spent the last 10, 20 or 50 years with that person—and they want to honor their relationship in the greatest way our society has to offer, by making a public commitment to stand together in good times and bad, through all the joys and challenges family life brings."[142]

The leading associations of psychological, psychiatric, medical, and social work professionals in the United States such as American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Nursing and National Association of Social Workers have said that claims that the legal recognition of marriage for same–sex couples undermines the institution of marriage and harms children is inconsistent with the scientific evidence which supports the conclusions: that homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality that is not chosen; that gay and lesbian people form stable, committed relationships essentially equivalent to heterosexual relationships; that same-sex parents are no less capable than opposite-sex parents to raise children; and that the children of same-sex parents are no less psychologically healthy and well-adjusted than children of opposite-sex parents.[143][144][145][146][147][148][149] The body of research strongly supports the conclusion that discrimination by the federal government between married same-sex couples and married opposite-sex couples in granting benefits unfairly stigmatizes same-sex couples. The research also contradicts the stereotype-based rationales advanced to support passage of DOMA that the Equal Protection Clause was designed to prohibit.[150]

Garden State Equality states that the wording "same-sex marriage" implies a separate, and therefore unequal, category of marriage.[151] The 2012 Democratic Party Platform used the term "marriage equality" in its support.[152]

Role of social media[edit]

Supporters of the legalization of same-sex marriage have successfully used social media websites such as Facebook to help achieve that goal.[153][154][155] Some have argued that the successful use of social media websites by LGBT groups has played a key role in the defeat of religion-based opposition.[156]

One of the largest scale uses of social media to mobilize support for same-sex marriage preceded and coincided with the arrival at the US Supreme Court of high-profile legal cases for Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act in March 2013. The 'red equals sign' project started by the Human Rights Campaign was an electronic campaign primarily based on Facebook which encouraged users to change their profile images to a red equal sign to express support for same-sex marriage.[157] At the time of the court hearings it was estimated that approximately 2.5 million Facebook users changed their profile images to a red equals sign.[158]


Rally for Prop 8 in Fresno, California (October 2008)

Opponents of same-sex marriage in the United States ground their arguments on parenting concerns, religious concerns, concerns that changes to the definition of marriage would lead to the inclusion of polygamy or incest, and in natural law-based reasoning.[159] The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a statement in June 2003 that legalizing same-sex relationships would "convey a societal approval of a homosexual lifestyle, which the Bible calls sinful and dangerous both to the individuals involved and to society at large".[160] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and National Organization for Marriage argue that children do best when raised by a mother and father, and that legalizing same-sex marriage is, therefore, contrary to the best interests of children.[161][162][163][164] Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has raised concerns about the impact of same-sex marriage upon religious liberty and upon faith-based charities in the United States.[165] Other arguments against same-sex marriage are based upon concerns that the process of redefining the institution would be a "Pandora's box". Stanley Kurtz of the Weekly Standard has written that same-sex marriage would eventually lead to the legalization of polygamy and polyamory, or group marriage, in the United States.[166]

The funding of the amendment referendum campaigns has been an issue of great dispute. Both judges[167][168] and the IRS[169] have ruled that it is either questionable or illegal for campaign contributions to be shielded by anonymity. In February 2012, the National Organization for Marriage vowed to spend $250,000 in Washington legislative races to defeat the Republican state senators who voted for same-sex marriage.[170]

Obama administration[edit]

President Barack Obama explains his change of view on same-sex marriage with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2012.

In the first half of 2009, it was reported that Barack Obama opposed a federal mandate for same-sex marriage, and also opposed the Defense of Marriage Act,[171] stating that individual states should decide the issue.[172][173] Obama opposed Proposition 8—California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage—in 2008.[174] In December 2010, the White House website stated that the president supported full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.[175] He also stated that his position on same-sex marriage was "evolving" and that he recognized that civil unions from the perspective of same-sex couples was "not enough", before subsequently declaring his full support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2012.[176]

On May 9, 2012, President Obama announced in an interview with ABC News that after wrestling with the subject for many years, he had come to believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. In the same interview, he stated his belief that individual states should have the final say as to whether same-sex marriage is recognized. The announcement made Obama the first United States president to publicly declare his support of same-sex marriage while in office, and marked a departure from his previous stance on the issue.[21][177][178][179] During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama had stated, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it is a sacred union. You know, God is in the mix."[180] although he remained supportive of the rights of individuals who identified as gay or lesbian.[175] Obama had previously made comments in support of same-sex marriage as early as the 1990s during his campaign for the Illinois Senate.[181] In a 1996 newspaper interview, Obama stated "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."[182]

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, the campaign of the Democratic presidential ticket (Obama-Biden) continually emphasized the administration's support for marriage equality, making it a key part of the campaign. President Obama was reelected and mentioned LGBT rights and marriage equality both explicitly and implicitly in both his victory speech on November 7, 2012, and in his inauguration speech on January 21, 2013.

Politicians and media figures[edit]

Former presidents Bill Clinton[183] and Jimmy Carter,[184] former vice presidents Dick Cheney[185] and Al Gore,[186] and current Vice President Joe Biden have voiced their support for legal recognition, as have former first ladies Laura Bush[187] and Hillary Clinton.[188] Former president George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara have served as witnesses to a same-sex wedding, but neither has publicly stated whether this means they support same-sex marriage in general.[1] In May 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting President to support same-sex marriage.[21] In March 2013, Rob Portman became the first sitting Republican senator to endorse same-sex marriage.[189] After the Supreme Court heard arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor the same month, support for same-sex marriage in the Senate increased. 15 Senators announced their support in the following weeks,[190] including another Republican, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. A majority of the Senate now supports same-sex marriage.[191] In June 2013, Lisa Murkowski became the third Republican senator to endorse same-sex marriage.[192]

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, then-Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin stated: "I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans who had the opportunity to vote to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I wish on a federal level that that's where we would go because I don't support gay marriage."[193]

Congressman Barney Frank voiced his concern in September 2009 with regard to the ability to obtain sufficient votes to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act: "If we had a chance to pass that, it would be a different story, but I don't think it's a good idea to rekindle that debate when there's no chance of passage in the near term."[194] In 2009, Pelosi described the difficulty in repealing the Defense of Marriage Act: "I would like to get rid of all of it. But the fact is we have to make decisions on what we can pass at a given time. It doesn't mean the other issues are not important. It is a matter of getting the votes and the legislative floor time to do it."[195]

Commenting on the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker regarding Proposition 8 in California, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich issued a statement in opposition to same-sex marriage, which read, in part, as follows: "Judge Walker's ruling overturning Prop 8 is an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife... Congress now has the responsibility to act immediately to reaffirm marriage as a union of one man and one woman as our national policy."[196] Gingrich, whose sister is openly gay,[197] later commented that he could accept civil—but not religious—same-sex marriages, and encouraged the Republican Party to accept the "reality" of same-sex marriage becoming legal.[198]

Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi expressed her support for Judge Walker's decision: "I am extremely encouraged by the ruling today, which found that Proposition 8 violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Proposition 8 has taken away individual rights and freedoms, and is a stain upon the California Constitution. We must continue to fight against discriminatory marriage amendments and work toward the day when all American families are treated equally."[199]

In an O'Reilly Factor interview in August 2010, when Glenn Beck was asked if he "believe(s) that gay marriage is a threat to [this] country in any way", he stated, "No I don't...I believe that Thomas Jefferson said: 'If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket what difference is it to me?'"[200][201]

On his radio show in August 2010, Rush Limbaugh made the following comments: "Marriage? There's a definition of it, for it. It means something. Marriage is a union of a man and woman. It's always been that. If you want to get married and you're a man, marry a woman. Nobody's stopping you. This is about tearing apart an institution."[202]

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.

As of 2013, public support for same-sex marriage in the United States has solidified above 50%.[203][204][205] Public support for same-sex marriage has grown at an increasing pace since the 1990s.[19] In 1996, just 25% of Americans supported legalization of same-sex marriage. Polls have shown that support is identical among whites and Hispanics, while support for same-sex marriage trails among blacks.[206] Polling trends in 2010 and 2011 showed support for same-sex marriage gaining a majority, although the difference is within the error limit of the analysis.[207] On May 20, 2011, Gallup reported majority support for same-sex marriage for the first time in the country.[208] In June 2011, two prominent polling organizations released an analysis of the changing trend in public opinion about same-sex marriage in the United States, concluding that "public support for the freedom to marry has increased, at an accelerating rate, with most polls showing that a majority of Americans now support full marriage rights for all Americans."[209]

A 2013 poll showed a record high of 58% of the American people supporting legal recognition for same-sex marriage.[210][211] In May 2013, a Gallup poll showed that 53% of Americans would vote for a law legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Three previous readings over the course of a year consistently showed support at 50% or above. Gallup noted: "Just three years ago, support for gay marriage was 44%. The current 53% level of support is essentially double the 27% in Gallup's initial measurement on gay marriage, in 1996."[212] Some commentators, however, have noted instances where polling data has overstated voter opposition to referendums banning same-sex marriage.[213] One study concluded that "polls on gay marriage ballot initiatives generally under-estimate the opposition to gay marriage by about seven percentage points".[214]

Effects of same-sex marriage[edit]

Economic impact on same-sex couples[edit]

In June 2013, the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and required the federal government to treat legally married same-sex couples on an equal basis with heterosexual married couples. Before that ruling, however, same-sex married couples faced a number of severe disadvantages. While some states extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples within their borders, until section 3 of DOMA was struck down none of those legally married couples were recognized by the federal government for any purpose, financial or otherwise.

According to a 1997 General Accounting Office study requested by Rep. Henry Hyde (R), at least 1,049 U.S. federal laws and regulations include reference to marital status.[215] A later 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office found 1,138 statutory provisions "in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving 'benefits, rights, and privileges.'"[216] Many of these laws govern property rights, benefits, and taxation. Same-sex couples whose marriages are not recognized by the federal government were ineligible for spousal and survivor Social Security benefits.[216] Badgett's research found that the resulting difference in Social Security income for same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex married couples was US$5,588 per year.

The federal ban on same-sex marriage and benefits through the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) also extended to federal government employee benefits.[216] According to Badgett's work, same-sex couples faced the following other financial disadvantages against which legal marriage at least partially shielded opposite-sex couples:[217]

Some 7,400 companies were offering spousal benefits to same-sex couples as of 2008. In states that recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex couples can continue to receive those same benefits only if they marry.[219]

Potential economic disadvantages[edit]

While the legal benefits of marriage are numerous, same-sex couples could face the same financial constraints of legal marriage as opposite-sex married couples. Such potential effects include the marriage penalty in taxation.[216] Similarly, while social service providers usually do not count one partner's assets toward the income means test for welfare and disability assistance for the other partner, a legally married couple's joint assets are normally used in calculating whether a married individual qualifies for assistance.[216]

Economic impact on the federal government[edit]

The 2004 Congressional Budget Office study, working from an assumption "that about 0.6 percent of adults would enter into same-sex marriages if they had the opportunity" (an assumption in which they admitted "significant uncertainty") estimated that legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States "would improve the budget's bottom line to a small extent: by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years". This result reflects an increase in net government revenues (increased income taxes due to marriage penalties more than offsetting decreased tax revenues arising from postponed estate taxes). Marriage recognition would increase the government expenses for Social Security and Federal Employee Health Benefits but that increase would be more than made up for by decreased expenses for Medicaid, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income.[216]

Mental health[edit]

Based in part on research that has been conducted on the adverse effects of stigmatization of gays and lesbians, numerous prominent social science organizations have issued position statements supporting same-sex marriage and opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; these organizations include the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Psychological Association.[150]

Several psychological studies[220][221][222] have shown that an increase in exposure to negative conversations and media messages about same-sex marriage creates a harmful environment for the LGBT population that may affect their health and well-being.

One study surveyed more than 1,500 lesbian, gay and bisexual adults across the nation and found that respondents from the 25 states that have outlawed same-sex marriage had the highest reports of "minority stress"—the chronic social stress that results from minority-group stigmatization—as well as general psychological distress. According to the study, the negative campaigning that comes with a ban is directly responsible for the increased stress. Past research has shown that minority stress is linked to health risks such as risky sexual behavior and substance abuse.[223]

Two other studies examined personal reports from LGBT adults and their families living in Memphis, Tennessee, immediately after a successful 2006 ballot campaign banned same-sex marriage. Most respondents reported feeling alienated from their communities. The studies also found that families experienced a kind of secondary minority stress, says Jennifer Arm, a counseling graduate student at the University of Memphis.[224]

At the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial, expert witness Ilan Meyer testified that the mental health outcomes for gays and lesbians would improve if laws such as Proposition 8 did not exist because "when people are exposed to more stress...they are more likely to get sick..." and that particular situation is consistent with laws that say to gay people "you are not welcome here, your relationships are not valued." Such laws have "significant power", he said.[225]

Physical health[edit]

In 2009, a pair of economists at Emory University tied the passage of state bans on same-sex marriage in the US to an increase in the rates of HIV infection.[226][227] The study linked the passage of same-sex marriage ban in a state to an increase in the annual HIV rate within that state of roughly 4 cases per 100,000 population.

A study by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health found that gay men in Massachusetts visited health clinics significantly less often following the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state.[228]


Polling in states that have legalized same-sex marriage has shown that a majority of respondents generally agree the legalization of same sex marriage has had no effect on them.

A survey done by Public Policy Polling of 1,539 registered Massachusetts voters in May 2013 found that 60% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had "no impact" on their personal lives, with an additional 25% citing a "positive impact". Only 15% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had a "negative impact" on their personal lives.[229]

A survey done by Public Policy Polling of 668 registered Iowa voters in July 2013 found that 63% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had "no impact" on their personal lives, with an additional 11% citing a "positive impact". The 26% citing a "negative impact" was driven by "very conservative" voters, of whom 70% said the legalization of same-sex marriage had a "negative impact". All other political ideologies agreed the legalization of same-sex marriage has had no impact on their personal lives.[230]

A survey done by Public Policy Polling of 953 registered Maine voters in August 2013 found that 62% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had "no impact" on their personal lives, with an additional 18% citing a "positive impact". Only 20% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had a "negative impact" on their personal lives.[231]

A survey done by Public Policy Polling of 1,354 registered New Hampshire voters in January 2014 found that 66% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had "no impact" on their personal lives, with an additional 20% citing a "positive impact". Only 14% of respondents claimed the legalization of same-sex marriage had a "negative impact" on their personal lives.[232]

Case law[edit]

United States case law regarding same-sex marriage:






See also[edit]


Supporting organizations[edit]

Opposing organizations[edit]


  1. ^ On February 21, 2014 a District Court judge ruled that same-sex couples could begin marrying immediately; though the ruling was effective for Cook County only. However, on February 26, 2014, a Champaign County clerk began issuing licenses without court order, after consulting the State Attorney and concluding that Cook County's order is applicable.
  2. ^ Despite Illinois law not going into effect until June 1, 2014, the state's first legal same-sex wedding took place on November 27, 2013 when a court permitted a same-sex couple to get married early due to one of the participant's terminal cancer.
  3. ^ Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Coquille, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Santa Ysabel Tribe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Suquamish
  4. ^ Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin. See Same-sex marriage legislation in the United States#Attempts to establish same-sex unions via initiative or statewide referendum


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