Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, the state of same-sex marriage in America was always in flux. From its early beginnings, both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage have asserted controversial arguments concerning the definition, application, and legality of marriage as it applies to men and women of the same sex.
Beginning in 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, legislatures in many states were called to answer the same call. Twelve years later, all states are now required to recognize the equal protection of marriage laws, regardless of sexual orientation.
Below is a summary of states that legalized same-sex marriage prior to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized it nationwide. Click on the state name to be directed to the actual text of the state law (however, many these statutes are subject to change as the ruling takes affect).
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's decision to overturn Proposition 8 (which banned same-sex marriage) by ruling that the appellants lacked standing to appeal the case. Soon after the Court's ruling, California courts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. See Developments in Same-Sex Marriage Law for more details.
Connecticut legalized the marriage of same-sex couples on November 12, 2008. Connecticut became the third state (after California and Massachusetts) to authorize same-sex couples to marry. A noteworthy case out of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, held that the Connecticut State Constitution does not permit the state to exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage.
When Gov. Jack Markell signing HB 75 into law on May 7, 2013, Delaware became the latest colonial state to allow same-sex marriage. Like Rhode Island, Delaware also made civil unions a thing of the past.
Same-sex couples in the Rainbow State became legally eligible for marriage with the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 1, signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 10 in 2013, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. The law took effect on June 1, 2014.
After a flurry of court cases concerning same-sex marriage in the nation, Iowa was added to the list of states that allowed same-sex unions when the court in Varnum v. Brien ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage under the constitution was a form of unconstitutional sexual-orientation discrimination. The law took effect on April 3, 2009.
The Maine legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009, but it was repealed by popular vote later that year. But gay marriage was again made legal in 2012, this time in the general election. It passed by 53 percent, which is the same percentage of voters who rejected it in 2009.
A bill legalizing same-sex marriage was passed in 2012 and signed by the governor, with an enactment date of Jan. 1, 2013. But the law was put to a referendum on the 2012, known as Question 6 on the general election ballot, passing with the support of more than 52 percent of Maryland voters.
Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning in 2004. The Supreme Court ruled in Goodrich v. Department of Public Heath that the state could not deny civil marriage to two members of the same sex who wished to marry, and that the same laws and procedures that govern traditional marriage also apply to same-sex marriage.
The Minnesota gay-marriage bill reframes all marriages as "civil marriages," removing gender from the state's definition of eligible partners to a marriage, and will allowing marriages on August 1, 2013. The Minnesota House voted 75-59 in favor of same-sex marriage on May 9, 2013, the state Senate voted 37-30 in favor of same-sex marriage on May 13, 2013, and Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill on May 14, 2013.
New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage after Governor John Lynch became only the second Governor to sign a bill (HB 73) that allowed same-sex unions. The new law extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples took effect on January 1, 2010.
Same-sex couples in New Jersey became eligible for marriage licenses in 2013, following a judge's ruling that denying gay marriage violated New Jersey's constitution. The ruling, which Gov. Chris Christie had vowed to appeal, was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
New Mexico's Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 19, 2013, that the statutes prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying violated both the state and federal constitutions. Since New Mexico's constitution does not expressly define marriage as between a man and a woman, the Court's opinion immediately legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
On June 24, 2011, New York officially enacted the Marriage Equality Act, becoming the sixth state in the United States to legalize same sex marriages. The legislation passed after several weeks of intense negotiations and fund raising and lobbying efforts on both sides of the issues.
Rhode Island became the sixth and final New England state to approve marriage equality -- and the 10th nationwide (at the time). The Rhode Island legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on May 2, 2013; it went into effect on August 1, 2013.
In 1999, The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Vermont that same-sex couples are "entitled under Chapter I, Article 7, of the Vermont Constitution to the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples."
On February 8, 2012, the Washington State Senate passed a bill that legalized same-sex marriage. The Senate passed the bill 28-21, with four Republican Senators crossing party lines in the vote. The bill was signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire, but challenged by a petition. The law was put to a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot as Referendum 74, where it passed with 51.8 percent of the vote.
The District of Columbia overwhelmingly passed legislation (by an 11-2 vote) in early December 2009 when it recognized same-sex marriages as a legal union. D.C. now then elected to ban any vote that attempts to ban same-sex marriage because it would be a violation of human rights.
Get Legal Help with Your Marriage Issues
If you're in a same-sex relationship and are thinking about marriage, congratulations! Now, it's time to learn about the marriage laws and procedures in your state. If you have questions about prenups, how to apply for a marriage certificate, or the legal implications of having children, now is the time to find out. Get help with your marriage questions from a family law attorney in your state.