Same-sex marriage in the United States
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The push by some civil rights supporters to create legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the United States has been taking shape since the early 1970s. This effort did not reach widespread national attention until the 1990s, at which time a counter movement to protect "traditional" marriage formed in response.
Same-sex marriage is sometimes referred to as gay marriage, but the legal implications extend beyond the lesbian and gay population. In a few U.S. states, bans on same-sex marriage have voided marriages of otherwise-heterosexual couples because genetically they were of the same gender either as the result of intersex status or a previous sex reassignment surgery of one of the spouses.
As of April 2005 only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized legal same-sex marriages, while the states of Vermont, Connecticut, California, Maine, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey offered benefits similar to marriage to same-sex partners with civil union, reciprocal benefits, or domestic partner laws. Eighteen states had constitutional provisions that define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, while 24 other states had legislative statutes containing similar definitions.
Advocates of same-sex marriage generally hold that lawful marriage and its benefits should not be denied to same-sex couples, and that such a denial infringes one or more of their rights as American citizens.
Critics of same-sex marriage reject this position, and generally hold that lawful marriage should be defined as only consisting of a union of one man and one woman, a so-called "traditional marriage," and that no rights exist that should compel a state to recognize any relationships to the contrary of that definition.
A nationwide survey by Pew Research in October 2003 found that 32% favored legal recognition of gay marriages, while 59% were in opposition to legal recognition of these relationships. Opposition correlated with level of religious commitment, particularly among evangelical Christians. Similar polls conducted by multiple national news organizations have consistently found recognition of gay marriage to be supported by 25% to 35% of those polled .
This nationally popular opinion is not shared at all local levels. A Massachusetts poll conducted in October 2003 estimated that 59 percent of registered voters believed that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to enter into civil marriage .
The national desire to not recognize gay marriages does not extend to general support for amending the U.S. Constitution to enshrine marriage as being between one man and one woman. A 2004 poll conducted by the National Annenberg Election Survey found that while same-sex marriage was opposed by 60% to 31%, only 42% of respondents favored a federal constitutional amendment . Other national polls have tended to find a near 50/50 split on this issue  .
In the United States, proponents of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples observe that there are over 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor, as well as state and private benefits (family memberships, discounts, etc) denied same-sex couples by excluding them from participating in marriage. A legal denial of federal rights or benefits, they say, directly contradicts the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution which provides for equal protection and substantive due process under the law: rights conferred to one person cannot be denied to another.
In the 2003 case before the Supreme Court of the United States titled Lawrence v. Texas, the court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Many proponents of same-sex marriage believe that this ruling, especially when combined with the 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia that eliminated anti-miscegenation laws, paves the way for a subsequent decision invalidating state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. This raises the possibility of a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1996, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed. This bill defines marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman," refuses federal recognition to same-sex marriages, and allows U.S. states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other U.S. states (currently only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) or other countries. Since then, various states have passed a law or to assert that they do not recognize same-sex unions, nor will they recognize such unions legally recognized in other states. These laws are sometimes referred to as "Mini-DOMAs."
Some opponents of same-sex marriage, wanting to ensure that the constitutionality of such laws cannot be challenged in the courts under the Full Faith and Credit clause, Equal protection clause or Due process clause of the United States Constitution, have proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to the constitution that would prevent the federal government or any state from providing a marriage or the legal incidents thereof to a same-sex couple, whether through the legislature or the courts.
The amendment was debated in the United States Senate, but on July 14, 2004, a procedural motion to end debate failed by a wider-than-expected margin of 48 votes to 50.  This effectively prevented the amendment from facing a full Senate vote.
Also in 2003, lesbian comedian Rosie O'Donnell's court case with ex-colleagues raised another new issue when O'Donnell's life partner, Kelli, was forced to testify against O'Donnell. Under United States law, spouses cannot be forced to testify against each other; but because same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, they are denied this courtroom right, part of a long list of benefits of marriage in the United States. They married on February 26th, 2004 in San Francisco.
Outside of Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is now legal, Vermont and Connecticut are the only U.S. states to offer same-sex couples all of the state-level rights and benefits of heterosexual couples. They do not use the word "marriage", however, but call such unions civil unions. Civil unions do not, however, provide the federal-level rights, benefits and protections that come with a civil marriage license, nor will they necessarily be recognized in States that have no civil union law.
There are also bills in both chambers of the New York State legislature that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. These bills were introduced in early 2003 and are currently still in committee.
The 2003–2004 interim legalization of same-sex marriages in seven Canadian provinces and one territory, and likely pending legalization of same sex-marriages across all of Canada (see same-sex marriage in Canada) has raised questions about U.S. law, due to Canada's proximity to the U.S. and the fact that Canada has no citizenship or residency requirement to receive a marriage certificate (unlike the Netherlands and Belgium). Canada and the U.S. have a history of respecting marriages contracted in either country.
Immediately after the June 2003 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Ontario, a number of American couples headed or planned to head to the province in order to get married. A coalition of American national gay rights groups issued a statement asking couples to contact them before attempting legal challenges, so that they might be coordinated as part of the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.
The Minnesota Supreme Court rules against the contention of plaintiffs Jack Baker and Mike McConnell that absence of a specific prohibition on same-sex marriage signified a legislative intent to recognize them. The court found that "The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis". 
Two men from Phoenix, Arizona are granted a marriage license by a county clerk on January 7. The Arizona Supreme Court, citing the Bible, voided the marriage. The state legislature passed a bill specifically defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Clela Rorex, county clerk of Boulder County, Colorado, allowed six same-sex couples to wed, after receiving an advisory opinion from the district attorney's office indicating that the state's laws did not explicitly prohibit it. 
1987 Washington, DC
The American Civil Liberties Union commits to eliminating legal barriers against same-sex marriage. 2,000 gay and lesbian couples are "married" in a mass mock wedding outside the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. 
1993: The Hawaii State Supreme Court rules that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying may violate Hawaii's Constitutional equal protection clause and can only be upheld if prohibition is justified by a compelling reason. (Baehr v. Miike, 80 Hawai`i 341)
February 27: The Alaska Superior Court judge Peter Michalski rules in favor of plaintiffs Jay Brause and Gene Dugan, saying that choosing a marital partner is a fundamental right that cannot be denied by the state without a compelling reason.
November 3: The state's voters amend their constitution to require that all marriages be between a man and a woman.
1999: Vermont Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled, under the state's constitution, to all of the protections and benefits provided through marriage.
Main article: Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts
November 18, 2003: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules 4 to 3 in Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and gives the state legislature 180 days to change the law. The court found that Massachusetts may not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry" because of a clause in the state's constitution that forbids "the creation of second-class citizens."
February 4, 2004: The court reiterates that only equal treatment in both rights and terminology is required. This means that either marriage must be allowed for gay couples (as opposed to civil unions) or all couples must have civil unions, with no state recognition of marriages.
February 11, 2004: A constitutional convention is convened to attempt to overturn the Supreme Court's decision. After six weeks marked by intense debate, the state legislature narrowly passes an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions. To take effect, the amendment will also need to be approved by the legislature in 2005, then pass a popular vote in 2006. (Boston Globe article)
May 17, 2004: The Supreme Court's ruling went into effect, 180 days after it was issued. The city of Cambridge began processing applications at one minute past midnight, cheered on by a crowd of five thousand gathered outside City Hall. The first license was issued to Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd. Massachusetts has a three-day waiting period after a marriage application has been issued, but couples can seek a judicial waiver of that requirement. (Boston Globe article) At least one marriage — that of Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish, of the Boston suburb of Malden — was finalized by 9:15 a.m. on May 17. (Boston Globe article)
2004 New Jersey
January 12: Governor James E. McGreevey signs New Jersey's domestic partnership law. It goes into effect July 10, 180 days after it was signed. The legislature passed the law in part to curtail a lawsuit seeking full marriage rights for gay people.
March 8: The Deputy Mayor of Asbury Park, New Jersey marries a same-sex couple who had a license issued by the town clerk. New Jersey has a 72-hour waiting period between issuing a license and performing a ceremony, and the original license was issued without fanfare on March 5.
March 9: Numerous same-sex couples converge on the clerk's office once it opens, determined to get their own licenses before a threatened injunction by State Attorney General Peter C. Harvey could halt the process.  By the end of the day, no such injunction had been issued, although the attorney general had sent letters to Asbury Park officials warning them that they could face prosecution if they continued.
March 10: In response, the city council votes unanimously to freeze all 16 pending license applications, and sue the state to have those licenses — along with the one marriage which was actually performed — declared valid.
Main article: Same-sex marriage in California.
Between February 12 and March 11, 2004, California stepped into the national spotlight for this issue after Gavin Newsom, the newly elected mayor of San Francisco, California, ordered the county to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. These licenses were later ruled void, but the events in California set the stage for national politics through the following year.
2004 New Mexico
February 20: Victoria Dunlap, county clerk of Sandoval County, New Mexico, announces that she would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses because New Mexico marriage law does not mention gender. The first same-sex marriages in Sandoval County are performed later the same day. By the end of the day, however, New Mexico state attorney general Patricia Madrid issued an opinion stating that the licenses were "invalid under state law," and the Sandoval County clerk's office stops issuing them. In the interim, 26 such licenses had been issued.
2004–2005 New York
February 26: Jason West, mayor of the village of New Paltz, announces that the village would start performing same-sex civil weddings. Although the village would not attempt to issue licenses for such weddings, couples in New York State have six months from the wedding to seek such a license, and weddings are not invalid solely for not having a license. 
March 2: West is charged with 19 misdemeanor counts of "solemnizing marriages without a license" by Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams. West announces that he intends to continue performing same-sex ceremonies.
March 3: Shields announces that he will begin officiating at same-sex marriages, and that he and his fiancé would join other gay and lesbian New Yorkers in seeking marriage licenses from municipal clerks' offices. 
March 3: The Office of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issues an "informal opinion" that clerks should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as the state legislature had not intended same-sex marriages to be covered by the domestic relations law.  The same opinion states that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere were recognizable in New York state under a recent judicial decision recognizing the validity of a Vermont civil union as granting the benefits of marriage, Langan v. St. Vincent's Hospital, 196 Misc. 2d 440 (N.Y. Misc., 2003).
March 5: New York state judge Vincent Bradley issues a temporary restraining order barring West from performing any such ceremonies for a month. West indicates that he will abide by the judicial order while evaluating his legal options.
March 15: Two Unitarian Universalist ministers who had been performing same-sex weddings in Mayor West's stead are charged with 13 counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license by District Attorney Williams.
March 20: Six Unitarian Universalist ministers — including one of the two ministers charged earlier — defy the District Attorney by performing 25 more same-sex marriage ceremonies in New Paltz.
March 22: Following an opinion requested in January from their attorney, the Rochester city council announces that Rochester will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Rochester is across Lake Ontario from Toronto, where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2003.
June 6: An Ulster County Supreme Court judge makes the temporary restraining order against Mayor West permanent.
June 10: A New Paltz Town Court Justice dismisses the charges against Mayor West, ruling that the district attorney had failed to show that the state had a legitimate interest in preventing the marriages, or that the law under which West was charged was constitutional. The district attorney said that he would appeal the ruling, and also indicated that he intended to continue forward with charges against the Unitarian Universalist ministers.
July 13: Another New Paltz Town Court Justice dismisses all of the charges against the Unitarian Universalist ministers, for essentially the same reasons.
Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson of Ithaca, New York, in conjunction with her city clerk, has planned to provoke a court hearing by sending marriage applications from five local gay couples to the New York State Department of Health, while offering the backing of Ithaca's legal resources if their applications are denied.
October 8: The state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, indicated in a letter to a state employee that the state retirement system will recognize same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere for the purposes of retirement benefits for New York state employees. 
February 4, 2005: State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that New York City could not deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, based on the equal protection clause of the state's constitution. The order was stayed for 30 days, pending an appeal (the Supreme Court is a trial-level court in New York, and the decision could be appealed either to the Appellate Division or directly to the Court of Appeals).
May 13: A lesbian couple from Tulsa obtained a marriage application in the Cherokee tribal headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation issues marriage applications, rather than licenses. Couples obtaining a license have it signed by the individual performing the ceremony before returning to tribal court to have the application certified.
Cherokee Principal Chief Chad 'Corntassel' Smith has stated that he believes that same-sex marriages are not allowed under Cherokee law. On the other hand, it is unclear whether a Cherokee marriage becomes official when the application is granted, or only when the tribal court certifies it. For the time being, a tribal judge has issued a moratorium on all same-sex marriage applications.
Although Oklahoma does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, Oklahoma does recognize all Cherokee marriages. It is unclear how Oklahoma would react if the Cherokee tribal courts decide that this marriage is valid.
Marriage is defined in Oregon law as a "civil contract entered into in person by males at least 17 years of age and females at least 17 years of age," but does not state that one of each is required.
On the first day, Multnomah county issued 422 marriage licenses, compared to 68 on an average day. Local businesses reported an up-tick in sales of flowers and other marriage-related services directly related to the beginning of same-sex marriages. Neighboring Washington and Clackamas counties initially announced that they are studying Multnomah County's legal opinion, but do not plan to immediately follow suit.
By the date of first legal hearing, on March 9, approximately 1,700 marriage licenses had been issued by the county; the 2000 US Census reported 3,242 same-sex couples living in the county. A later study by the Oregonian revealed that first weeks 2,026 individuals from Multnomah County had received licenses, about one third of the 2000 Census figure, about 900 other individuals came from other locations in Oregon, about 490 from the state of Washington, and 30 from other states.
March 9: At the first legal hearing, County Circuit Judge Dale Koch refuses to issue an injunction stopping the ceremonies.
- current Oregon laws prohibit county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples;
- under current law, the legal status of being "married" carries with it legal rights, benefits, and obligations;
- the Oregon Supreme Court likely would conclude that withholding from same-sex couples the legal rights, benefits, and obligations that — under current law — are automatically granted to married couples of the opposite sex likely violates Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution; but
- because of the uncertainties about the Article I, Section 20 analysis that the Oregon Supreme Court would bring to bear on the question, it would be unwise to change current state practices until, and unless, a decision by the Supreme Court makes clear what, if any changes are required.
The attorney general stated that his office did not have the authority to order Multnomah County to cease issuing licenses for same-sex marriages.
March 15: After considering their options, Multnomah County announces that they will continue to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
March 22: After receiving two letters from the attorney general and a phone call threatening to arrest the county clerk, the Benton county commissioners reverse their decision and vote to issue no marriage licenses of any kind until a decision is reached by the Multnomah County Court. 
Both sides agree to let three couples with venue sue the state of Oregon in Multnomah County Court to settle this issue.
April 16: Attorneys for the ACLU and Basic Rights Oregon present arguments in favor of the couples, while attorneys for the Oregon Department of Justice and Defense of Marriage Coalition argued against the County's actions before Justice Frank Bearden.
April 20: Judge Bearden orders the county to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses, while simultaneously ordering the state of Oregon to recognize the 3,022 such licenses already issued. The Oregon state registrar had been holding the completed licenses, rather than entering them into the state's records system, pending a court decision as to their validity. Judge Bearden also finds that the Oregon state constitution would likely allow some form of marriage rights to same-sex couples, and directed the legislature to act on the issue within 90 days of the start of its next legislative session. Should they fail to successfully address the issue within that time, Multnomah County would be free to resume issuing same-sex marriage licenses. It is understood that both parties would appeal the decision, although they have not yet decided whether to attempt to move directly to the state Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
May 21: The Defense of Marriage Coalition gets legal approval for the language of their proposed initiative to prohibit same-sex marriage. They begin to circulate petitions in churches, neighborhoods, and otherwise beyond public areas to obtain the 100,840 valid signatures needed by July 2 so it can submitted to a vote in the November general election.
July 9: The state Court of Appeals lifts a temporary ban blocking the registration of the marriage licenses already issued by Multnomah County, pending the case concerning their validity being heard by the state Supreme Court. Within hours, the state began processing the licenses, and expects to have the work done within a week.
2004 Rhode Island
May 17: Attorney General Patrick Lynch issues an advisory opinion that Rhode Island would recognize any legal marriage performed in another state, as long as the marriage is not contrary to the "strong public policy" of Rhode Island. He said that the legislature and courts should decide which types of marriages fall within that category, while adding that same-sex marriages are not included among the types of marriages currently proscribed. While his opinion does not have the force of law, it appears to indicate that Rhode Island would, in fact, recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts or elsewhere.
March 8: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels issues an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions for all city employees. He also proposes an ordinance to the City Council to require all city contractors to do the same for their employees. 
March 8: Six same-sex couples file suit against King County, seeking to require it to issue marriage licenses for them. At the time, Washington state law gives counties exclusive authority to issue marriage licenses, but also strictly defines marriage as "a civil contract between a male and a female" . Their suit is invited by King County Executive Ron Sims, who is named as a defendant.
August 4: King County Superior Court Judge William L. Downing rules that the state law prohibiting same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, finding for the plaintiffs in the March 8 lawsuit Andersen v. King County. The judge rules that restricting the institution of marriage to opposite sex couples "is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest." The ruling is stayed pending an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The appeal is scheduled to be heard March 8, 2005.Text of his ruling, .pdf format
There are also many groups actively fighting for and against legal recognition of same-sex marriage, proponents including traditional LGBT groups such as HRC, Lambda Legal and NGLTF, as well as groups that have been created around this single issue, such as Marriage Equality and Freedom to Marry.
Politicians in several states have proposed new bans against the practice of same-sex marriage. Some states already had laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman, though many are now mulling the possibility of adding new amendments to the state constitutions in an effort to prevent the laws from being ruled unconstitutional. Many states require constitutional amendments to be voted on in state referenda, meaning that a delay of several months to a year or more will take place before these proposals will have any effect.
In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling demanding that the legislature pass a law authorizing same-sex marriages. The first licenses were issued in Cambridge on May 17, 2004.
For several weeks in early 2004 several local government officials, most notably in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The San Francisco licenses were later nullified by the California Supreme Court, which ruled they had been issued without legal authority.  The Oregon licenses have not yet been ruled on.
On September 18th, 2004 Louisiana passed a similar constitutional amendment; however, on October 5, Louisiana District Judge William Morvant ruled that the amendment was invalid due to structural flaws inherent in its wording. This ruling has been appealed to the State Supreme Court, which was set to hear the case in December of 2004.
Also on August 4, 2004, Washington State Judge William L. Downing ruled that the state law prohibiting same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, finding for the plaintiffs in the March 8 lawsuit Andersen v. King County. The judge ruled that restricting the institution of marriage to opposite sex couples "is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest." As of October 3rd, 2004, the ruling is stayed pending an appeal to the state Supreme Court. Text of ruling in .pdf format
On March 5, 2004, the Wisconsin State Assembly approved, by a vote of 68–27, a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages or civil unions, and to counter efforts elsewhere to legalize such partnerships. The same day, the Kansas House passed, by 88 votes to 36, a similar proposed amendment.   A week later, on March 12, the Wisconsin State Senate also voted 20–13 to pass that state's amendment, which must still be passed again in next year's legislature, and be voted on in a state-wide referendum.  The Kansas Legislature did not immediately agree on the precise language of their amendment, delaying it until the next legislative session. On February 2, 2005, however, they approved an amendment by a vote of 86–37; the measure was approved by about 70% of the state's voters on April 5, 2005.
On November 2 (Election Day) 2004, the same-sex marriage movement suffered a severe setback, and the traditional marriage movement a major victory, when state constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage were passed in eleven states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah (see: Utah Constitutional Amendment 3). The measures in Oregon, Mississippi, and Montana bar same-sex marriage only; those in the other states bar civil unions and domestic partnerships as well; and Ohio bars granting any benefits whatsoever to same-sex couples. Every state that had the "definition of marriage" amendment on the ballot passed the constitutional amendment.