Gay Marriage States: History of Same Sex Marriage in US

It's official! In a 5-4 decision on June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage is a national right nationwide. Find out the facts about the history of same-sex marriage in the US right here.
by Susan Linney
Gay marriage states map

On June 26, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that all gay couples nationwide have the constitutional right to marry in every state! And with marriage equality for all, that means that all 13 states that previously upheld bans on gay marriage have now been legally enforced to reverse them.

It's been a little more than 11 years since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. And before today, 36 other states as well as the District of Columbia followed suit, striking down bans on same-sex marriage and awarding gay couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. So we've put together a comprehensive state-by-state list detailing the history of gay marriage in our country, some noteworthy facts about same-sex marriage in the US, plus a geographical history map of gay marriage states.

States That Historically Allowed Gay Marriage

Alabama

Gay Marriage State Since: February 9, 2015

Alabama is technically one of the states that allows gay marriage, but until the Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples couldn't get hitched there. Why? Less than a month after the federal court overturned Alabama's gay marriage ban, the state's Supreme Court ordered judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The federal judge who overturned the ban has since reaffirmed her initial ruling, but she also put enforcement of her decision on hold until the US Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling was delivered. Now that gay marriage is legal in all states, new marriage licenses can be issued to gay couples in Alabama.

Alaska

Gay Marriage State Since: October 12, 2014

In November 1998, Alaska became the first of two states to ban same-sex marriage in the US with a constitutional amendment. The law limited the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman only. Sixteen years later, on October 17, 2014, a federal judge overturned that ban and declared it unconstitutional, making Alaska the 30th state with gay marriage.

Arizona

Gay Marriage State Since: October 17, 2014

Gay marriage became legal in Arizona on October 17, 2014, when the state's ban on same-sex nuptials, which was approved by voters in 2008, was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge. The Arizona attorney general choose not to appeal the ruling, which meant that same-sex marriages could be performed that very same day.

California

Gay Marriage State Since: June 16, 2008

In a ruling issued in May 2008, California's Supreme Court called marriage a "basic civil right" and legalized it between same-sex couples in the state. The law went into effect on June 16 but was halted five months later due to the passage of Proposition 8, an amendment that upheld California's gay marriage ban by defining marriage as a union between a man and a women. Same-sex couples were not permitted to marry until June 16, 2013, when the Supreme Court finally nullified the amendment in a 5-4 decision.

Colorado

Gay Marriage State Since: October 7, 2014

In May 2013, Colorado legalized civil unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples. While civil unions do provide many of the same rights awarded to married couples, those rights are only recognized at a state level; federal protections, such as tax and social security benefits, are not allowed. It would be more than a year before Colorado finally became a gay marriage state, which happened on October 7, 2014.

Connecticut

Gay Marriage State Since: November 12, 2008

Same-sex couples in Connecticut were given the right to enter into civil unions in 2005. Three years later, the state's Supreme Court ruled that those unions did not provide privileges equal to those awarded in marriage and struck down the state's gay marriage ban as a result. All existing civil unions between same-sex couples were converted into marriages, and Connecticut became the third state to legalize gay marriage.

Delaware

Gay Marriage State Since: July 1, 2013

Delaware was another state to legalize gay marriage after ruling that civil unions did not provide gay couples with adequate benefits. When the law went into effect in the summer of 2013, State Senator Karen Peterson and her partner were the first same-sex couple in the state to have their civil union converted into a marriage.

Gay Marriage Fact: On September 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (often referred to as DOMA). The law banned same-sex marriage in the US by defining the institution of marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

Florida

Gay Marriage State Since: January 6, 2015

Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex nuptials was found unconstitutional by a US district court in August 2014. But because of a stay placed on the ruling by the state, it did not end up going into effect until January 6, 2015. On that day, more than 1,200 gay marriages were performed.

Hawaii

Gay Marriage State Since: December 2, 2013

Hawaii became a state where gay marriage is legal thanks to the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act, which was passed on October 28, 2013, and went into effect on December 2. After the ruling was announced, the state's attorney general said that the bill "unequivocally affirmed the right of people to marry the person they love without regard to gender."

Idaho

Gay Marriage State Since: October 15, 2014

In May of 2014, a US district court found Idaho's nine-year ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. After two stays delayed the ruling from going into effect many months, the conservative state finally allowed gay marriage on October 15, 2014. More than 100 same-sex couples were married that day.

Gay Marriage Fact: On June 26, 2013, 18 years after DOMA banned same-sex marriage in the US, the Supreme Court struck a key part of it down, asserting that Section 3—which defined marriage as a union between a man and a women only—was unconstitutional. As a result of this landmark ruling, legally married same-sex couples became entitled to the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples.

Illinois

Gay Marriage State Since: June 1, 2014

On November 20, 2013, the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was signed into law, clearing the way for Illinois to become a gay marriage state. President Obama, who served in the Illinois General Assembly, was extremely pleased with the decision and said, "Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours—and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law."

Iowa

Gay Marriage State Since: April 27, 2009

Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to allow gay marriage on April 3, 2009. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's gay marriage ban, citing it as unconstitutional. Marriage licenses began being issued to same-sex couples three weeks later.

Gay Marriage Fact: On October 6, 2014, the US Supreme Court made a momentous decision to reject petitions from five states seeking to appeal pending same-sex marriage cases in Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin. In doing so, the high court immediately lifted gay marriage bans in those five states and cleared the way for six more to swiftly follow suit.

Indiana

Gay Marriage State Since: October 6, 2014

Indiana first banned same-sex marriage way back in 1986. The ban wasn't overturned until nearly 30 years later, when the US Supreme Court made its impactful October 6 decision, immediately making Indiana a state where gay marriage is legal.

Kansas

Gay Marriage State Since: October 8, 2014

Like Alabama, Kansas was a gay marriage state in theory: The US Supreme Court's October 6 decision set precedent for Kansas courts, and two days later a judge ordered Johnson County—the most populous county in the state—to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But many other counties refused to do so until they were forced by court action, which means the state's unified same-sex marriage status remained in limbo until the US Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling today.

Maine

Gay Marriage State Since: December 29, 2012

Maine made history when it became one of the first of three states to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. The legislation was approved 53-47 by voters on November 6, 2012, and the win was regarded as a watershed moment for marriage equality, reflecting a major shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage in the US. The law took effect on December 29, 2012.

Maryland

Gay Marriage State Since: January 1, 2013

Along with Maine, gay couples in Maryland also won the right to marry via popular vote in November 2012. Prior to these historic election night victories, same-sex marriage had been continually struck down by every state in the US that held a vote for it. Maryland's state ban on gay marriage was also the country's first—it had been in effect since 1973.

Gay Marriage Fact: In 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting president in history to openly declare support for gay marriage.

Massachusetts

Gay Marriage State Since: May 17, 2004

Massachusetts led the way: It was the first state to legalize gay marriage. It was also the sixth jurisdiction in the world (behind the Netherlands, Belgium, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec) to allow same-sex marriage. According to data reviewed by the Associated Press, nearly 25,900 same-sex marriages have been performed in the state between 2004 and 2013.

Minnesota

Gay Marriage State Since: August 1, 2013

In November 2012, Minnesota voters became the first in the country to reject a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. A marriage-equality bill was passed soon thereafter and signed into law during the spring of 2013. Behind Iowa, Minnesota was the second gay marriage state in the Midwest.

Montana

Gay Marriage State Since: November 19, 2014

Before becoming the 34th state to allow gay marriage, Montana denied marriage rights to gay couples with a 1997 statute and a 2004 amendment to the state constitution. It was that amendment, called Initiative 96, that was overturned by a federal judge in 2014, enabling Montana to become a gay marriage state.

Nevada

Gay Marriage State Since: October 9, 2014

Two days after the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (a federal court with jurisdiction over numerous western states, including Nevada) issued a ruling in favor of the freedom to marry, the Silver State overturned its ban on gay marriage, which had been in place since 2002. Nevada became the 26th gay marriage state, creating a nationwide majority of states allowing same-sex marriage.

New Hampshire

Gay Marriage State Since: January 1, 2010

New Hampshire became one of the states in which gay marriage is legal as a result of legislation signed by the state's governor in June 2009. In addition to awarding full rights to same-sex couples, the law, which went into effect on January 1, 2010, also converted all existing same-sex civil unions into marriages.

Gay Marriage Fact: According to an April 2015 Gallup poll, there are approximately 390,000 married same-sex couples in the US.

New Jersey

Gay Marriage State Since: October 21, 2013

After two same-sex marriage bills failed to become law (the first was defeated by the senate in 2010; the second was vetoed by the governor in 2012), same-sex marriage finally became legal in the Garden State in the fall of 2013. New Jersey was the first state to legalize gay marriage since the US Supreme Court's landmark decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

New Mexico

Gay Marriage State Since: December 19, 2013

New Mexico became the 17th state in the US—and the first in the Southwest—to officially legalize gay marriage when the state's Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of freedom to marry. Prior to this decision, the state had no specific statute or constitutional amendment addressing same-sex marriage, which meant it was left up to each county to decide if gay marriage would be permitted.

New York

Gay Marriage State Since: July 24, 2011

Gay marriage became legal in New York as a result of the Marriage Equality Act, which took effect on July 24, 2011. The law fully grants marriage to same-sex couples while also protecting religious institutions or clergy from being penalized if they choose not to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Gay Marriage Fact: From 2011 until 2013 (when California re-legalized marriage for same-sex couples), New York was the most populous gay marriage state in the union.

North Carolina

Gay Marriage State Since: October 10, 2014

North Carolina began legally recognizing gay marriage in the fall of 2014, when a US district court judge ruled that the state's 18-year ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. In June 2015, state legislators passed a law similar to New York's Marriage Equality Act, keeping gay marriage intact but allowing officials the right to refuse performing same-sex unions due to religious beliefs.

Oklahoma

Gay Marriage State Since: October 6, 2014

Much to the dismay of the state's largely conservative lawmakers, Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage was lifted by the US Supreme Court's pivotal October 2014 decision. In March of the following year, state Republicans passed a law restricting county clerks from issuing marriage licenses, a move intended to make gay marriages more difficult to obtain. The plan backfired, however, after a wave of same-sex-marriage supporters applied to become ministers so they could perform state weddings themselves.

Oregon

Gay Marriage State Since: May 19, 2014

Oregon was already primed to legalize gay marriage when the state's 2004 ban was struck down by a federal district court in May 2014. Prior to that ruling, equal rights organization Oregon United for Marriage proposed a state constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage and had gathered enough signatures to put the proposal on the November 4 ballot (which became unnecessary after gay marriage was legalized). Additionally, a May 2014 poll conducted by DHM Research found that 58 percent of Oregon voters favored the amendment, 44 percent of which supported it strongly.

Pennsylvania

Gay Marriage State Since: May 20, 2014

Pennsylvania was the last state in the Northeast to allow gay marriage. The state's 18-year ban on same-sex marriage was declared unconstitutional and overturned by a federal judge on May 20, 2014, who stated in his ruling that "all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage." Sounds about right for a state whose motto is "Virtue, liberty and independence."

Gay Marriage Fact: According to a May 2015 survey by Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans support gay marriage.

Rhode Island

Gay Marriage State Since: August 1, 2013

In 2013, Rhode Island lawmakers voted 51-19 in favor of becoming a gay marriage state, and the law went into effect on August 1. Prior to signing the bill, the governor, a longtime proponent of gay marriage, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which he outlined his support for marriage equality and explained why the legalization of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island was critical from both a moral and an economic standpoint.

South Carolina

Gay Marriage State Since: November 20, 2014

South Carolina became the 35th state to legalize gay marriage after a US district court struck down the state's constitutional ban in November 2014. According to a 2015 poll conducted by Winthrop University, less than half of South Carolina residents (42.8 percent) think that same-sex marriage should be legal.

Vermont

Gay Marriage State Since: September 1, 2009

A long-standing supporter of same-sex unions, Vermont was the first state to legalize gay marriage through legislation rather than a court order. It was also the first state to offer limited benefits to same-sex couples via civil unions, which were introduced in the summer of 2000. And back in 1993, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling which allowed women to adopt the biological children of their lesbian partners.

Virginia

Gay Marriage State Since: October 6, 2014

Along with four other states, Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage was lifted on October 6, 2014, when the US Supreme Court opted not to hear appeals on numerous same-sex marriage cases. The ruling also paved the way for another major gay rights victory in the state: Just a few days later, the Virginia Department of Social Service announced that as a result of the new law, same-sex couples would be able to legally adopt children together.

Utah

Gay Marriage State Since: October 6, 2014

The Supreme Court's October 6 decision also legalized gay marriage in Utah. Prior to the ruling, the Beehive State had banned same-sex marriage since 1977, first with a statutory law, then by a constitutional amendment passed by the state senate in 2004. According to a 2014 poll conducted by Policy.com, 53 percent of Utah residents "completely oppose" gay marriage. Only 24 percent say they completely support it.

Gay Marriage Fact: In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage.

Washington

Gay Marriage State Since: December 5, 2012

Along with Maine and Maryland, Washington made history when it legalized gay marriage via popular vote during the 2012 general elections. Voters weighed in on a referendum and chose to uphold a February 2012 law legalizing same-sex marriage. The law passed by a 7.4 percent margin (53.7 percent approved, 46.3 percent rejected) and went into effect on December 5.

West Virginia

Gay Marriage State Since: October 9, 2014

Marriage equality arrived in the Mountain State following the US Supreme Court's ruling that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. While the decision did not explicitly overturn West Virginia's ban, it did set a pretty certain precedent, which led state officials to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on October 9. Less than a month later, the state's district court officially overturned the ban.

Wisconsin

Gay Marriage State Since: October 6, 2014

Wisconsin was another of the five states that saw gay marriage legalized as a result of the US Supreme Court's October 9 decision. The state had banned same-sex marriage since 2004, when the voters approved Wisconsin's Referendum 1, which prohibited both gay marriage and civil unions in the Badger State.

Wyoming

Gay Marriage State Since: October 21, 2014

When gay marriage was legalized in Wyoming on October 21, 2014, the ruling struck down a ban that had been in place for more than 25 years. Despite being nicknamed the "Equality State" and touting "Equal Rights" as its official motto (which was earned as the first territory to allow women to vote), Wyoming had been the second state to legally ban same-sex marriage in the US via a statute passed in 1977.

District of Columbia

Gay Marriage State Since: December 18, 2009

On March 3, 2010, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 took effect, ushering in gay marriage in the District of Columbia. Prior to the ruling in in late 2009, domestic partnerships between same-sex couples had been legal in DC since 1992 (though Congress blocked the law from actually taking effect for a decade).

States That Now Allow Gay Marriage After the Supreme Court Ruling

Arkansas

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1997 (via state law); 2004 (via constitutional amendment)

Gay marriage was legal for one week in Arkansas following a US district court ruling that the state's 17-year ban was unconstitutional. More than 500 same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses before the decision was suspended by the state's Supreme Court on May 16, 2014. In November of the same year, the ban was once again overturned by a US district court, but enforcement of the ruling was put on hold pending appeal. Now, all same-sex marriage in Arkansas is legal, but in June 2015, a judge did order the state to recognize the 500-plus marriages that were performed during the state's weeklong legal "window."

Georgia

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1996 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

Georgia's 11-year constitutional ban on gay marriage, which was approved by voters in 2004 (76 percent were in favor), also prohibited same-sex couples from attaining any form of legal family status, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions. In early June 2015, the LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality began airing the state's first ever pro-gay marriage TV ad in Augusta and Savannah, two cities with fairly large LGBT communities.

Kentucky

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1998 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

Even before Kentucky took legal measures to explicitly prohibit gay marriage, the state was previously able to stop same-sex couples from getting hitched. The 1973 case Jones v. Hallahan saw a Kentucky court deny a marriage license to two women, based solely on the dictionary definition of marriage. In its ruling, the court said, "In substance, the relationship proposed ... is not a marriage."

Louisiana

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1998 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

Same-sex marriages and civil unions were both previously prohibited in the Bayou State, and in September 2014 a federal judge upheld that ban when he reversed a federal court's decision to overturn it. The majority of Louisiana residents still oppose gay marriage, with 51 percent against it, according to the 2015 Louisiana Survey. But the number of those in support of it has been slowly rising: In 2013, 39 percent of residents surveyed were in favor of gay marriage; this year, that number rose to 42 percent.

Gay Marriage Fact: When a federal court upheld Louisiana's gay marriage ban in September 2014, the judge broke a hot streak of rulings in favor of marriage equality—specifically 21 consecutive federal court decisions, since June 2013, to overturn gay marriage bans.

Michigan

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1996 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

On March 21, 2014, a US district court ruled that Michigan's voter-approved ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. More than 300 same-sex couples were married before the ruling was halted by a court of appeals three days later. In November, the appeals court opted to reverse the district court's decision and keep Michigan's gay marriage ban in place, and no further same-sex weddings have been allowed -- until now! The 300-plus marriages performed during Michigan's legal "window" were also eventually validated by the state after months of legal wrangling.

Mississippi

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1997 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

A US district court ruled Mississippi's gay marriage unconstitutional in November 2014; however, the decision came with a two-week stay and was appealed soon afterward. That decision was still on hold pending appeal, until today, when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal for all states.

Missouri

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1996 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

Missouri used to be a tricky one. The Show Me State has recognized gay marriages performed in other states since October 2014. And in November 2014, the state's same-sex-marriage ban was overturned by a district court. Officials in St. Louis, Jackson County and Kansas City began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples immediately following the ruling, despite the fact that enforcement of the decision was suspended pending appeal. So while gay marriage was previously technically still illegal in Missouri, some counties chose to ignore the stay and performed same-sex nuptials. But now, gay marriage is legal for everyone in Missouri.

Nebraska

Banned Gay Marriage In: 2000 (constitutional amendment)

Nebraska's 15-year, voter-approved ban on gay marriage remained in place until the Supreme Court recently ruled to allow same-sex marriage nationwide. The ban was previously declared unconstitutional by a district court in March 2015, and an appeals court put the ruling on hold pending appeal. The lawsuit challenging the ban was filed by the ACLU.

North Dakota

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1997 (state law); 2004 (constitutional amendment)

While lawsuits challenging North Dakota's gay marriage ban were filed on June 6, 2014, all court proceedings regarding same-sex nuptials were suspended pending the US Supreme Court gay marriage decision. But now that the ban has been lifted, it looks like a good number of North Dakotans will be happy: Per a 2012 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, support for gay marriage in the state has nearly doubled in eight years, with 23 percent in favor back in in 2004, and 40 percent in favor by 2012.

Gay Marriage Fact: According to a 2014 poll by Pew Research, 47 percent of adults in the US think wedding vendors should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

Ohio

Banned Gay Marriage In: 2004 (state law and constitutional amendment)

A district court overturned Ohio's gay marriage ban and declared it unconstitutional in April 2014. But a federal appeals court rebuffed that ruling and upheld the state ban seven months later. But now that the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the US, gay couples can now legally marry in the Buckeye State.

South Dakota

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1996 (state law); 2006 (constitutional amendment)

Like so many of the other states that previously prohibited gay marriage, South Dakota's same-sex ban was overturned by a US district court judge, but enforcement of the ruling was put on hold pending appeal. The ban has now been lifted since the US Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of marriage equality.

Tennessee

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1996 (state law); 2006 (constitutional amendment)

Tennessee previously banned all forms of same-sex unions: marriages, domestic partnerships and civil unions. In November 2014, those bans were upheld when a federal appeals court reversed a decision made by a district court to overturn them. But since the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, all same-sex couples in Tennessee can now legally marry.

Texas

Banned Gay Marriage In: 1997 (state law); 2005 (constitutional amendment)

While the Lone Star State previously needed a district court's decision to strike down the state's ban on gay marriage, the ban isn't in effect anymore since the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling regarding same-sex marriage becoming legal in the US. One divorce, however, was recently granted to a lesbian couple from Massachusetts: On June 19, the Texas Supreme Court upheld a district court's decision to grant the two women a divorce. But the ruling was based on a technicality, as the Supreme Court said the state's appeal was filed too late in the process. The decision was not made because the court found the ban unconstitutional.

So basically, marriage equality in the US went from this...

Map of states that previously allowed same-sex marriage


... to this.

Map of states that allow same-sex marriage

Simply put, #LoveWins.

And psst—the third annual digital issue of The Knot Special LGBTQ Edition is available now for download right here.


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