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When Was Gay Marriage Legalized in the US?

same-sex marriage
In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling struck down all laws barring federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Today, same-sex couples have the right to marry and have that recognized across the United States. They can enjoy the same wedding ceremonies and marital perks as heterosexual couples.

When was gay marriage legalized in the US? 

The simple answer is June 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down all laws barring same-sex marriage from federal recognition.

We can’t focus on one date when considering same-sex marriage legalization in the United States, as the journey toward legalization is long and complicated. 

Questioning the Equality and Meaning of Marriage Laws in the 1990s

The start of the journey for equal marriage rights for all couples began in 1987 with the 2nd National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Marriage proposal
Equality for gay couples has been a divisive topic for decades.

Couples had questioned the laws and lack of equality for homosexual couples for decades, but this was when there was a more direct request for same-sex marriage.

Naturally, the march stirred up tension and discussions on both sides. 

On one side, there were those questioning the current laws and opportunities for same-sex unions in the United States.

A landmark moment here came with the case of Baehr v. Miike in Hawaii in 1993. This was the first time a state supreme court questioned the constitutional right to marry. 

However, opposition to the idea also led to a tightening of laws. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would later be cited in cases opposing state laws favoring same-sex marriage.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

This act protected the idea of traditional marriage between men and women and denied recognition of any same-sex union. 

States Begin To Make Changes to Their Laws in the 2000s

Achieving legalization began with important legislative changes and symbolic moments in states and cities.

Not all of these would last, as progression was sometimes challenged and overturned. However, these state-level laws and changes were significant to those previously unable to get a marriage license or participate in a legal marriage ceremony.

two wedding bands
Massachusetts was the first state to recognize and license same-sex marriage.

On May 17th, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to license and recognize same-sex marriages (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health).

They concluded that the marriage rights of same-sex couples being denied violated the Massachusetts Constitution

In 2008, Connecticut enacted laws for gender-neutral marriage legislation.

Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means (2009).

New York would then sign its Marriage Equality Act in 2011. 

The Roller Coaster of Californian Law

California is an excellent example of the highs and lows endured over this century for gay rights.

In early 2004, San Francisco began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, even though no state law was in place.

The legalization of gay marriage has been a roller coaster ride in California.

They were eventually stopped by the California Supreme Court but had helped around 4000 couples by this point. 

A few years later, in 2008, California finally passed a state law to allow and recognize same-sex marriage.

However, the backlash against this legislation preempted the creation and passing of Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage once again. Soon after, this was deemed unconstitutional. 

Same-Sex Marriage Became a Massive Political Issue in 2012

During the presidential race, the fight for the legalization of gay marriage gained greater national attention in 2012.

The Republicans leaned towards the protection of traditional marriage and bans on same-sex unions, while the Democrats came out in favor of legalization and better protections.

Proposals for state laws went to the ballot in some states. 

traditional marriage
Republicans tend to support traditional marriages.

These opposing views led to a divide between states, with some changing their laws in favor of same-sex marriage and others strengthening same-sex marriage bans.

For example, Maine, Maryland, and Washington legalized it through popular vote. 

Meanwhile, North Carolinians voted to approve a constitutional amendment to ban all forms of same-sex union.

Significant Supreme Court Rulings Allow for Federal Protection for Gay Marriage

At this point, the issue of gay marriage and recognition of same-sex unions remained at a state level.

You may have had plenty of freedom to marry in your home city, but it wouldn’t be recognized or permitted if you moved to some other state. In 2013, this changed with the first major federal law

Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage came in 2013.

In June 2013, a landmark United States Supreme Court ruling came into force following the United States v. Windsor case.

This repealed the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage, finally allowing for nationwide consistency.

The ruling stated that the ban was “a deprivation of the equal liberty” that is protected by the Fifth Amendment

A couple of years later, same-sex marriage received much greater protection, following the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, on June 26th, 2015.

Here, the Supreme Court went deeper with its powers to ultimately strike down any state ban still in place.

Furthermore, all states had to honor the marriages that took place in other states. 

The Future of Same-Sex Marriage Recognition in the US

The ruling of Oberfegell v. Hodges should have been the end of the line for the fight for marriage equality. However, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there are concerns that the same could happen here.

Pro-abortion rally
The overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 raised concerns that the Supreme Court may rule against same-sex marriage in the future.

Those that want a return to the old days of DOMA, including some on the Supreme Court, could make that happen. 

This journey shows that nothing is ever simple when fighting for equal rights in America. People’s opinions in one state may differ greatly from those across the border, which then reflects in conflicting state legislation.

Federal rulings go a long way to creating progress and recognition across the nation, but even then, things are not 100% perfect. 

For a poll that ran on same-sex marriage, please go to:

[POLL] Respect for Marriage Act Protects Same Sex Marriage

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