The History of Same-Sex Marriages Laws in the U.S.

The History of Same-Sex Marriages Laws in the U.S.

Same sex marriage in the United States has a long history. For many years, those who were championing the efforts of same sex marriage law came upon many hurdles. It hasn’t been an easy road. But all the effort proved to be worthwhile when on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.


The first efforts to make same sex marriage law in the United States started back in the 1970s. In 1972, the Supreme Court dismissed the case of a gay couple seeking to marry. Later, in 1973, Maryland became the first state to ban same-sex marriage.

Effort in the 1990’s

In the 1990s, things began to pick up on the same-sex marriage front. In 1993, the Supreme Court in Hawaii ruled that denying same-sex marriage violated the constitution, and then in 1996 a judge in Hawaii defended the right of same-sex marriage. However, in that same year, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that ultimately denied federal benefits to couples of the same gender. Further opposition came in 1998 when Hawaii voters approved an amendment that banned same-sex marriage.


A year later, California led the way by becoming the first state in the U.S. to pass a statute for domestic partnerships, which included same-sex couples, setting the groundwork for what was to come.

Progress in the 21st century

The turn of the 21st century brought about a lot of change in same-sex marriage laws in the U.S. While there were many steps forward, there were also many steps back. Many states found themselves in turmoil over how to proceed.


In 2000, Vermont approved civil unions for same gender relationships. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. A year later, California tried to pass a same-sex marriage bill but the governor vetoed it; and the same thing again in 2007. In 2006, seven more states officially banned gay marriage. In 2008, California turned another corner—its Supreme Court struck its law and started to allow same sex marriage. Connecticut followed suit later that same year. Then, in November 2008, voters in California approved controversial Prop 8, again banning gay marriage. In 2009, same-sex marriage supporters saw a large step forward, with Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Maine, and Washington, D.C., all legalizing same-sex marriage.


Even more challenges and changes came in 2010. That year, the U.S. District Court Judge in Massachusetts was the first to rule that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. A month later, Prop 8 in California was also found unconstitutional. (For many years following, both DOMA and Prop 8 continued to be closely scrutinized in court.)

A big milestone

In 2011, New York state legalized same-sex marriage. That was a big milestone, because it more than doubled the number of Americans who lived in states allowing same-sex marriage.


In 2012, Washington state, New Jersey (finalized in 2013), and Maryland made same-sex marriage legal. Also, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to publicly voice his support for same-sex marriage. At the end of the year, however, a judge in Nevada kept the ban on gay marriage in that state. The next year was also very progressive; in 2013, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, and Utah (which underwent an appeal in 2014) all signed same-sex marriage into law.


In 2014, several states started the year by striking down their same-sex marriage bans. However, many of those were appealed, and so those states did not allow any same-sex marriages to occur during the appeal process.


Additionally in 2014, other states passed same-sex marriage laws, and many same-sex marriages were performed within a short period of time, but then appeals put further marriages on hold for a time. That same year, several states began recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. Later in 2014, Oregon and Pennsylvania took away their same-sex marriage bans and the states did not appeal. However, Louisiana upheld its ban of same-sex marriage.


In October 2014, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals refused appeals from several states—another big milestone, because it paved the way for other states to uphold same-sex marriage as well. Florida same-sex marriages were allowed by the end of the year. Finally, 2015 was the big year. Many more judges struck down various states’ same-sex marriage bans, most of which are appealed. In April, the Supreme Court heard six consolidated cases that challenged same-sex marriage bans in several states. Then, just one month later, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the nation.


Truly, it has been a remarkable history, with many challenges along the way. But supporters kept challenging the status quo, and many judges and governors and other U.S. leaders helped to bring to pass the many changes in same-sex marriage laws in the United States.

States that Allowed Same-Sex Marriage Prior to 2015 US Supreme Court Ruling


Alabama New Hampshire
Alaska New Jersey
Arizona New Mexico
California New York
Colorado North Carolina
Connecticut Oklahoma
Delaware Oregon
Florida Pennsylvania
Hawaii Rhode Island
Idaho South Carolina
Illinois Utah
Indiana Vermont
Iowa Virginia
Kansas Washington
Maine West Virginia
Maryland Wisconsin
Massachusetts Wyoming
Minnesota District of Columbia
Montana Guam

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