Gay Marriage Decisions Ripe in Calif., Conn.
By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer
(Updated March 6, 2008)
A history of same-sex marriage laws
Important events listed in red
Hawaii Supreme Court rules the state must show a compelling reason to ban same-sex marriage and orders a lower court to hear a case seeking the right of same-sex couples to marry. (May)
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) signs into law the first state Defense of Marriage statute, which stipulates that Utah does not have to recognize out-of-state marriages that violate state public policy. (March)
President Bill Clinton signs into law the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which upholds states' rights to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. (September)
Alaska Superior Court judge rules that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry but stays the decision pending appeals to the state Supreme Court. ( February)
Hawaii voters approve a state constitutional amendment reserving the right to define marriage to the Legislature. ( November)
Alaska voters approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. ( November)
Alaska Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples cannot seek the right to marry under the state constitution in light of the 1998 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. ( September)
Vermont Supreme Court rules that the state Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the same rights to marriage as heterosexual couples. However, the court leaves it up to the Legislature to decide how to provide marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples. ( December)
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) signs a civil union bill, making Vermont the first state to legally recognize same-sex couples. (April)
Nebraska voters approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. (November)
Seven same-sex Massachusetts couples file a lawsuitafter being denied marriage licenses. In Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health , the couples seek the right to marry.
Nevada voters give final approval to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Voters first approved the ban in 2000, but state law requires a majority vote in two consecutive election years to amend the constitution. (November)
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, rules the state constitution guarantees equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Nov. 18)
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) signs a domestic partnership law granting same-sex couples certain rights, such as hospital visits. (Jan. 12)
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reaffirms its decision and specifies that only marriage rights - not civil unions - would provide equal protection under the state constitution. (February)
Massachusetts Legislature holds a constitutional convention to consider amending the state constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman. The measure fails to pass. (February)
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorizes city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (February)
Sandoval, N.M., county clerks issue licenses to 26 same-sex couples before courts intervene. New Paltz, N.Y., Mayor Jason West begins officiating same-sex marriages and Multnomah County (Portland), Ore., commissioners issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (February through March)
President Bush announces support for federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Feb. 24)
California Supreme Court orders halt to San Francisco same-sex marriages. (March)
Massachusetts Legislature votes to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions. Legislature must approve the measure again by 2006 before amendment can go to statewide vote. (March)
Massachusetts begins marrying same-sex couples. (May 17)
Voters in 13 states - Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah - approve constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. (August through November)
Montana Supreme Court rules that the gay and lesbian partners of Montana University employees have the same right to health insurance benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. (December)
Kansas voters approve constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (April)
Oregon's Supreme Court nullifies nearly 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in 2004 in violation of state law. (April 14)
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) signs bill authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples, effective Oct. 1. (April 20)
Federal judge strikes down a Nebraska constitutional amendment denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. (May)
California Supreme Court lets stand a new law creating domestic partners' registry for same-sex couples. (June)
California Supreme Court issues first-of-its-kind ruling recognizing the co-parenting rights of same-sex couples. (August)
California state Assembly approves Senate-passed bill to legalize same-sex marriage, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoes it. (September)
Massachusetts Legislature defeats proposal at second constitutional convention to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions. (September)
Alaska Supreme Court rules that state and local governments must offer the same benefits to employees' same-sex partners that they do to spouses. (October)
Washington state Supreme Court recognizes co-parenting rights of same-sex couples. (November)
Texas voters approve constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (November)
Maine voters reject attempt to repeal a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. (November)
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upholds a 1913 state law banning out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts if the marriage is illegal in their home state. (March)
Alabama voters approve constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (June)
New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, rules that the state constitution does not guarantee same-sex couples equal access to the rights and privileges of marriage. (July 6)
Georgia Supreme Court reinstates constitutional ban against same-sex marriage that had been thrown out by a lower court on procedural grounds. (July)
Connecticut judge rules that banning same-sex marriage does not violate same-sex couples' constitutional rights because the state's new civil union law provides similar protections. (July 12)
Washington state Supreme Court rules that the state constitution does not guarantee same-sex couples equal access to the rights and privileges of marriage. (July 28)
New Jersey Supreme Court rules that the state constitution guarantees same-sex couples all of the legal benefits of marriage but stops short of legalizing same-sex marriage. (Oct. 25)
Voters in seven states - Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin - approve constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. (Nov. 7)
Arizona becomes the first state to reject at the ballot box a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and other benefits for unmarried couples. (Nov. 7)
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), in the wake of a court order, signs a bill permitting same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, granting the same state benefits conferred on married couples. (December)
Michigan appeals court rules that state's ban on gay marriage prohibits state and local governments and public universities from offering health benefits to partners in same-sex relationships. (February)
New Jersey begins accepting applications for civil unions. (Feb. 19)
Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch issues legal opinion advising state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts. (Feb. 21)
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs bill creating same-sex domestic partnership starting July 22, 2007. The law also applies to senior heterosexual couples. (April 22)
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) signs bill creating same-sex domestic partnerships starting January 1, 2008. (May 9) New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) signs bill creating same-sex civil unions. (May 31)Massachusetts lawmakers upheld the state's court-imposed gay marriage law, protecting it from constitutional ban for at least five years. (June 14)
Maryland's highest court overturns a lower court decision, ruling that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. (Sept. 18)
California Supreme Court hears oral arguments in case determining whether the state's domestic partnership law adequately fulfills the equal rights of gay couples. (March 4) Washington state Legislature approves bill expanding rights conveyed under the state's 2007 domestic partnership law. (March 4)
More than four years after its historic court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Massachusetts stands alone in blessing gay marriages - more than 10,000 to date. Its example has spurred no imitators, but lots of backlash.
Following the festive scenes of gay and lesbian brides and grooms waiting in long lines to wed in the Bay State on May 17, 2004, 23 states fortified their state constitutions to withstand judicial edicts like the one in Massachusetts, joining four other states that already had constitutional prohibitions.
Florida voters will decide on a similar constitutional ban in November 2008 when they go to the polls to pick a new president.
In addition to bans, high courts in three states have ruled that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marriage. Maryland in September 2007 joined New York and Washington in rejecting gay couples' claims that matrimony is a state constitutional right.
Even in Massachusetts, a swell of opposition nearly forced a 2008 statewide vote on a constitutional gay marriage ban. But after three-and-a-half years of rancorous debate and a change in administrations, Bay State lawmakers on June 14, 2007, narrowly upheld the court-imposed gay marriage law - protecting it from a constitutional ban for at least five more years.
Despite these actions, gay-rights groups can point to recent progress in expanding legal acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships in several other states:
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) signed a law in May 2007 calling for same-sex civil unions, making the state the fourth to grant gay couples all state-level rights and benefits of marriage, but without the title.
New Jersey began issuing civil union licenses to same-sex couples in February 2007, joining Vermont and Connecticut in pioneering the marriage alternative.
In April and May 2007, Washington and Oregon joined California, Hawaii and Maine in allowing same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, bestowing certain spousal privileges such as rights to hospital visits, approval of organ donations and inheritance without a will.
While most moves to liberalize marriage laws have occurred on the nation's coasts , a county trial judge in Iowa ruled in August 2007 that the state's legislative ban on same-sex marriage violated equal rights protections in the state's constitution. The case is now pending before the Iowa Supreme Court.
All eyes now are on the highest courts in California and Connecticut, where decisions are eminent on whether civil unions and domestic partnerships are adequate substitutes for matrimony. Connecticut 's case is ripe for a decision; California heard oral arguments March 4, 2008 and is scheduled to decide the case within 90 days.
Even if the number of gay weddings in the United States is minimal so far, the uproar over same-sex marriage has been deafening. The issue has rocked every state capital and inflamed passions in Congress and presidential campaigns, as advocates of equal rights for gays and lesbians are pitted against religious and other socially conservative groups committed to protecting traditional marriage.
National polls indicate a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. However, a poll released in August 2006 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicates 54 percent approve of civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage.
Outside the United States, same-sex marriage is slowly gaining ground. The Netherlands legalized gay marriage in 2001, followed by Belgium and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia in 2003; Quebec, Canada, in 2004; Spain and all other Canadian provinces in 2005 ; and South Africa in 2006.
As with many U.S. civil rights issues, courts have held the keys to marriage rights for homosexual couples. Only one state legislature not under court order - California in 2005 - has passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed the measure.
While the Massachusetts ruling touched off the latest frenzy of action on gay marriage, a Hawaiian circuit court judge in 1996 was the first in the nation to side with a same-sex couple denied a marriage license. Rather than risk a state Supreme Court decision in favor of gay unions, Hawaiian voters in 1998 rewrote their state constitution to give lawmakers, not the courts, the right to define marriage, and lawmakers subsequently voted to prohibit gay nuptials.
The Hawaii case sparked similar action in Congress, resulting in then-President Bill Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. DOMA codified states' right to decide whether to allow or ban same-sex marriage and defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes such as claiming tax breaks for spouses and receiving deceased partners' Social Security benefits.
Between 1973 and 2005, 42 states enacted statutes similar to the federal DOMA. But statutory bans were seen as providing limited protection that could be trumped if the courts found - as in Massachusetts - that denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple violated a right granted by a state constitution.
The first states to enshrine bans on same-sex marriage in their constitutions acted before 2004: Alaska, Nebraska and Nevada. Hawaii voters in 1998 also used their constitution to block gay marriage, though its amendment differs from those now passed in 26 other states. It cuts judges out of deciding gay-marriage rights but doesn't include a definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman.
After Massachusetts issued the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples, voters in 13 states in 2004 rushed to rewrite their constitutions to limit marriage to heterosexuals. Two more states passed constitutional bans on gay marriage in 2005 and eight more in 2006. Arizona in 2006 became the first and only state so far to reject a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage.
Only three states have no laws either condoning or prohibiting same-sex marriage: New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island.
Federal attempts to change the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage nationwide have faltered. In 2004, President Bush announced his support for an amendment to ban gay marriage, but the Republican-controlled Congress in both 2004 and 2006 was unable to muster the two-thirds majority needed to send the issue on for ratification by 38 state legislatures. In 2007, the new Democratic-led Congress kept the issue off its agenda.
State courts that have considered challenges from gay and lesbian couples have delivered conflicting verdicts on whether same-sex partners have a right under their state constitutions to wed.
The highest court in Massachusetts found it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, requiring legislators to pass a law legalizing marriage. High courts in Vermont (1999) and New Jersey (2006) required lawmakers to extend the rights and benefits of marriage, but stopped short of requiring the title of marriage.
In contrast, the highest courts in Washington and New York found no constitutional guarantee to marriage or its benefits. Instead, the justices in both states ruled in 2006 that only the legislature could decide whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples.
The same-sex marriage controversy also is breeding a host of legal issues beyond the question of whether gays should be granted marriage licenses.
Cases in Michigan and Ohio question whether those states' constitutional same-sex marriage bans might have unintended consequences.
In February 2007, a Michigan appeals court held that the state's ban prohibited public universities, state agencies and local governments from offering health insurance to partners of gay and lesbian employees. The case is now on appeal to the state Supreme court.
In Ohio, two lower courts cited the state's gay marriage ban in denying protection under domestic violence laws to unmarried couples. The state Supreme Court decided in July 2007 that the constitutional marriage prohibition did not affect the state's domestic violence statutes.
Michigan and Ohio are among 17 states whose constitutional gay-marriage bans are written broadly and go beyond defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman to potentially prohibiting other spousal rights.
As with traditional marriages, not all same-sex marriages and civil unions have lasted until "death do us part." As a result, state courts also are beginning to deal with divorce, child custody and probate cases involving same-sex couples.
In 2006, a Virginia judge gave sole custody of a child to a biological mother who is separated from her partner in a Vermont civil union. The case is now before the Virginia Supreme Court. In Vermont , the Supreme Court ruled that the non-biological parent may have visitation rights.
In Rhode Island , Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch broke new ground in February 2007 with a legal opinion making the Ocean State the first to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts . In December 2007, however, the state Supreme Court ruled that couples marrying in Massachusetts could not divorce in Rhode Island .
Taking a different approach a New York trial court in February 2008 recognized the Canadian marriage of two New York women and ruled the state did have authority to grant them a divorce.
New Jersey 's attorney general concluded in February 2007 that the state would honor civil unions from Vermont and Connecticut , and give civil-union status to couples married in Massachusetts or Canada and those registered as domestic partners in California . New Hampshire 's new civil union law includes a provision recognizing civil unions performed in other states.
Stateline.org will list other helpful resources as we find them. This "Backgrounder" is a work in progress and will be updated as warranted. Here are some facts at a glance in FAQ form:
For a period of time in 2004, marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in violation of state law in San Francisco, Sandoval County, N.M., New Paltz, N.Y., and Multnomah County, Ore. Courts intervened and invalidated these marriages.
On May 10, 2007, the Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston approved the legality of Massachusetts marriage licenses issued to some 170 gay couples from New York. At issue was a 2004 decision by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) prohibiting out-of-state gay couples to marry in the Bay State if their home state prohibited same-sex marriage. The Suffolk County court upheld Romney's ruling on July 6, 2006, but ruled this year that gay New Yorkers who wed in Massachusetts before that date had valid licenses.
Legal challenges seeking permission for gays and lesbians to marry are pending in three states: California, Connecticut, and Iowa.
A lower court in Connecticut ruled in July 2006 that excluding gay couples from marriage does not violate the state constitution because the state's civil union policy provides equal access to state spousal benefits. The case was appealed in November 2006 to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to make a decision in early 2008.
On appeal to California's highest court is a case testing whether the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of gay couples, even though the state already grants spousal benefits to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners. A circuit court judge found the law unconstitutional in March 2005, although it was upheld on appeal. The California Supreme Court is scheduled to decide the case by June 2008.
Vermont created civil unions in response to a 1999 ruling by the state's Supreme Court ordering the Legislature to provide same-sex couples "the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law." Connecticut in April 2005 voluntarily became the second state to adopt civil unions. New Jersey in February 2007 began issuing licenses for civil unions after its Legislature - within weeks of an October 2006 state high court ruling similar to Vermont's - opted to adopt civil unions rather than marriage for same-sex couples. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) signed a law in May 2007 approving civil unions. Civil union laws in both New Jersey and New Hampshire recognize civil unions performed in other states.
California and Oregon have nearly identical schemes that allow couples to register as domestic partners and claim all of the state benefits conferred on husbands and wives. California's law was enacted in 1999 and extended to include all benefits in 2005.Oregon's law was enacted in 2007. Washington has a domestic partnership law - adopted in 2007 and expanded in 2008 — that includes most, but not all marital benefits. In a third category, Hawaii (1997) and Maine (2004) have registries that convey only a handful of benefits, including hospital visitation rights and inheritance without a will.
Unlike traditional marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships are invalid outside the state in which they are granted - except in states that expressly accept them — and do not provide any federal marriage benefits. Federal protections conferred by marriage include 1,138 laws and policies, such as Social Security, family medical leave, federal taxation and immigration policy.
Only three states now have no laws either condoning or prohibiting same-sex marriage: New Mexico , New York and Rhode Island . Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch broke new ground in February 2007 with a legal opinion making the Ocean Sate the first to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in Massachusett s. Later that year, however, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled the state could not divorce a couple married in Massachusetts . In contrast, a New York trial court in February 2008 recognized a same-sex marriage performed in Canada and ruled the state did have authority to grant the couple a divorce.
But gay-rights advocates are concerned that some broadly written same-sex marriage constitutional bans can be interpreted as prohibiting businesses and governments from extending benefits to employees' same-sex partners. An appeals court in Michigan ruled in February 2007, affirming the state attorney general's finding that local and state governments, including state universities, cannot offer employee benefits to same-sex partners because of the state's same-sex marriage ban.