State LawFurther information: Same-sex marriage law in the United States by state
Same-sex marriage is recognized only at the state level, as the federal Defense of Marriage Act explicitly bars federal recognition of such marriages.
Nine state governments (along with the District of Columbia, the Coquille Indian Tribe, and the Suquamish tribe) have legalized same-sex marriage and offer same-sex marriages: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Same-sex marriage has been legalized through legislation, court ruling, and in three of these states, it has been upheld by popular vote in a statewide referendum. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since May 17, 2004; in Connecticut since November 12, 2008; in Iowa since April 27, 2009; in Vermont since September 1, 2009; New Hampshire since January 1, 2010; and New York since July 24, 2011. In 2009, New England became the center of an organized push to legalize same-sex marriage, with five of the six states in that region granting same-sex couples the legal right to marry. In the 2012 elections, state voters for the first time approved same-sex marriage by popular vote, in Maine, Maryland, and Washington.
Washington State is the first of these three states that will permit same-sex couples to marry. Certification of the referendum on December 5, 2012, will allow licenses to be issued the following day. Washington has a mandatory three-day waiting period for all marriages, making December 9 the first day same-sex marriages can take place in the state. By law, Maryland will allow same-sex marriages on January 1, 2013, with Maine expected to do the same around January 5, 2013.
Out of 29 states where constitutional amendments or initiatives that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman were put on the ballot in a referendum, voters in 28 states voted to approve such amendments. Arizonans voted down one such amendment in 2006, but approved a different amendment to that effect in 2008. In 1998, Hawaiian voters approved language allowing their legislature to ban same-sex marriage. In 2009, Maine voters prevented legislation permitting same-sex marriage from going into effect, however in November 2012 Maine voted in favor of a law allowing same sex couples to marry. Also in the November 2012 election, Minnesota became the first state to reject a statewide constitutional ban against same-sex marriage by a popular vote.
As of January 2010, 29 states had constitutional provisions restricting marriage to one man and one woman, while 12 others had laws that did so. Nineteen states ban any legal recognition of same-sex unions that would be equivalent to civil marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have worked to prevent individual states from recognizing same-sex unions by attempting to amend the United States Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In 2006, the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote and was debated by the full United States Senate, but was ultimately defeated in both Houses of Congress.
In 2003, the US Supreme Court struck down Texas' "Homosexual Conduct" law in Lawrence v. Texas. The ruling effectively nullified similar same-sex sodomy laws in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri along with broader sodomy laws in nine other states.
The right to marry was first extended to same-sex couples by a United States jurisdiction on November 18, 2003, in a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Massachusetts.
On May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court of California issued a decision in which it effectively legalized same-sex marriage in California, holding that California's existing opposite-sex definition of marriage violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage opponents in California placed a state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot for the purpose of restoring an opposite-sex definition of marriage. Proposition 8 was passed on Election Day 2008, as were proposed marriage-limiting amendments in Florida and Arizona. On August 4, 2010, a decision by the U.S. District Court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The decision in that case has been appealed. The case is expected to be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court announced in October 2012 that it would consider whether to accept the appeal in Perry during a private conference scheduled for November 20. The Court later pushed the announcement to November 30.
On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the state's civil unions statute as unconstitutionally discriminatory against same-sex couples, and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa following the unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court in Varnum v. Brien on April 3, 2009. This decision was initially scheduled to take effect on April 24, but the date was changed to April 27 for administrative reasons. On April 7, 2009, Vermont legalized same-sex marriage through legislation. The Governor of Vermont had previously vetoed the measure, but the veto was overridden by the Legislature. Vermont became the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means rather than litigation. On May 6, 2009, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, becoming the first state governor to do so. However, the legislation was stayed pending a vote and never went into effect. It was repealed by referendum in November 2009. On June 3, 2009, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
On December 18, 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was signed into law by the Mayor of the District of Columbia; same-sex marriage licenses became available in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 2010.
California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have created legal unions for same-sex couples that offer varying subsets of the rights and responsibilities of marriage under the laws of those jurisdictions. New Jersey grants civil unions that provide "all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage." A bill that would have legalized same sex marriage in New Jersey was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie on February 17, 2012.
Prior to the November 2012 election, Maryland recognized same-sex marriages formed in other jurisdictions, but did not allow forming such marriages within their own borders. New York had been in a similar situation as its courts had held that same-sex marriages conducted in states where they are legal must be recognized by those states, but that the state statutes did not allow the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, a situation which changed when its legislature legalized granting licenses to same-sex couples in 2011. On February 13, 2012, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation into law that would institute same-sex marriage in the state, but the enactment was stayed pending a November 2012 voter referendum.
On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters approved, 61–39%, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as well as all other types of same-sex unions. North Carolina already prohibited same-sex marriages by statute.
On November 6, 2012, Maine, Maryland and Washington voted to recognize same-sex marriage, while Minnesota voted to reject an amendment to their state constitution which would have banned same-sex marriage.
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