Same-sex marriage is officially recognized by the state of Illinois as of Sunday, due to legislation signed last year that marked June 1, 2014 as the first day counties must begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. With several victories for supporters of gay rights this year, same sex marriage has continued to gain ground despite staunch opposition from many politicians and citizens.
The issue has become so interspersed into politics that it is even affecting campaigns for offices that have no relevance to the legality or illegality of same-sex marriage. Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank wrote Friday about a trip to New Mexico where he discovered that the state treasurer race had been affected by the recent decision by a state judge that same-sex couples could be married there. One candidate revealed that his opponent had “sided with Republicans” to prevent gay marriage, causing an uproar in the gay New Mexican community, even though most citizens have no idea what the state treasurer actually does.
Same-sex marriage is legal by state legislature in 10 states and the District of Columbia. A judicial decision has been handed down in seven states, most recently in Oregon and Pennsylvania. Maine is the only state in which voters approved a ballot measure allowing gay marriage.
In 1993, after a Hawaii court decision opened up the possibility of legal marriage for gay couples, 32 states adopted language defining marriage as between one man and one woman, including Alaska, which was the first state to adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Nebraska followed with a constitutional provision defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. By the end of 2000, 40 of the 50 U.S. states had provisional language or bans against same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, after the state’s supreme judicial court ruled both bans on gay marriage and segregated civil unions to be unconstitutional. After that ruling, victories for gay couples and same-sex marriage supporters continued throughout the United States, and the movement for equal rights for gay couples slowly gained ground over the next 10 years before booming in 2013.
Several states began approving civil unions for gay couples, and in 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The marriages between same-sex couples were halted a few months later, however, when Proposition 8, a ballot measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman, passed with majority support. The measure was challenged and eventually overturned by the courts, but enforcement was delayed until the matter could be heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eight more states and the District of Columbia joined Massachusetts by the end of 2012. At that point, California was still awaiting a Supreme Court hearing, and Minnesota voters had voted against a constitutional prohibition. In 2013, seven more states overturned bans or enacted legislation allowing gay marriage, and the Supreme Court waived jurisdiction on the decision to overturn Prop 8 in California, making marriage for gay couples legal there. The Supreme Court also declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional on the same day.
Oregon and Pennsylvania overturned their bans in 2014, bringing the total to 19 states. Same-sex marriage is still illegal in 31 of the 50 states. Four states—Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Oklahoma—are awaiting court decisions appealing judicial rulings in favor of gay marriage.
Some states that do not allow same-sex marriage still recognize marriages performed in other states, but many even ban that. Florida is one of those. Attorney General Pam Bondi said in court documents that it would disrupt Florida’s existing laws on marriage and “impose significant public harm.” The state of Florida was sued in federal court by eight gay couples and the America Civil Liberties Union. Bondi requested that the federal judge “throw out” the lawsuit, as she feels the federal government should not rule on state marriage laws. Bondi’s other argument is a familiar one that has been defeated in several other states–that banning gay marriage is in society’s best interest in order to provide children with stable family units including a mother and a father. The ACLU claims the opposite—that such a ban is harmful to society and to stable family units with same-sex couples.
Despite the opposition it has encountered over the last 10 years, and still faces in 31 states, same-sex marriage has continued to gain significant ground, particularly in the last few years. Many of the states which still do not allow gay marriage have provisions requiring a popular vote to overturn the ban. Those could make future gay rights victories more difficult, as popular majority votes have not historically been kind to the minority. Only three of the states which have overturned bans on same-sex marriage did so by popular vote.
By Christina Jones