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Same-sex marriage in the United States:
1990 to 2015.

Part 1 of 2
An overview of the major events
leading towards marriage equality in
North America & the rest of the world.

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In this web site, LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender
persons and transsexuals. SSM refers to same-sex marriage

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A brief note about the acronym "SSM" and its meaning:

SSM is an acronym for "Same-Sex Marriage." It refers to marriages by same-sex couples. It is not an ideal term because it may imply to some people that same-sex marriages are somehow different from traditional or "opposite-sex marriages," in addition to the obvious gender difference that the term implies.

Still, "SSM" was a great improvement over the previous term: "gay marriage," which was a particularly poor choice because:

  • The term "gay" sometimes refers to both women and men with a homosexual orientation.

  • "Gay" sometimes refers to only male persons with a homosexual orientation.

  • Some same-sex marriages include one or two bisexuals -- persons who are sexually attracted to both women and men, although often not to the same degree.

It is likely that if marriage equality is attained throughout the United States that "SSM" and "gay marriage" will fall into disuse and be replaced by "marriage."

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1990 until 2015-JUN: An overview of major developments concerning same-sex marriage (SSM) in the U.S. and Canada:

  • 1990-DEC-17: The very first step in the 25 year (and counting) struggle to allow North American same-sex couples to legally marry occurred in Hawaii. Three same-sex couples (Ninia Baehr & Genora Dancel; Tammy Rodrigues & Antoinette Pregil; Pat Lagon & Joseph Melilio) applied for marriage licenses from the state's Department of Health. The government formally refused their request on 1991-APR-12. Their subsequent attempts to attain equality in the courts were unsuccessful. (The Hawai'ian Legislature eventually legalized same-sex marriage twenty-three years later, during 2013-DEC.) More details.

  • 1994: The first poll on this topic showed that marriage equality was supported by only about 27% of the U.S. population and was opposed by about 68%. Five percent were uncertain or didn't answer.

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  • 2003-JUN-10: The Province of Ontario in Canada became the first political jurisdiction in North America to extend marriage to same-sex couples. It was forced on the unwilling government by an order of the Ontario Court of Appeal. Quebec and British Columbia soon followed. More details.

  • 2004-MAY-17: A ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court required the state Legislature to pass a bill enabling same-sex marriage, and have it signed into law by the Governor. This made Massachusetts the first location in the United States to make marriage licenses available to all qualified same-sex couples, subject to the same age and relationship requirements as opposite-sex couples must meet. More details.

  • 2005-JUL: The Canadian government legalized same-sex marriage across all ten provinces and three territories. This only required a single piece of federal legislation, because the Supreme Court of Canada had previously ruled that Parliament has the sole responsibility to define marriage. In contrast, marriage in the United States is defined separately by each of the 50 states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia. There was only one battle required in Canada compared with 56 potential battles in the U.S. More details.
  • 2012-DEC-06: Between 2005 and 2012 inclusive, as a result of statutes passed by state Legislatures, rulings by courts, or plebiscites passed by voters, marriage licenses had become available in a total of ten states and the District of Columbia. That is at the rate of slightly more than one state per year. This rate accelerated drastically during the next three years. More details.

  • 2013-JUN-26: The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling In the case Windsor v. United States. It declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. This made 1.138 federal marriage benefits and protections -- that previously had been restricted to married opposite-sex couples -- available to many married same-sex couples as well. The Court based their ruling on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These clauses require federal, state, and local governments to treat people -- and thus couples -- equally. This, in turn, meant that since all states allowed qualified opposite-sex couples to marry, they must allow qualified same-sex couples to marry also. This argument was picked up by many dozens of state and federal judges over the next two years. It proved to be effective in bringing marriage equality much more quickly to additional states. Eventually, same-sex couples and their allies had filed lawsuits in all of the states and the Territory of Guam where SSM been banned seeking marriage equality.

Some commentators expressed the opinion that if and when:

  1. a significant majority of the U.S. states had attained marriage equality, and

  2. most of the U.S. population lived in places where same-sex couples could marry, and

  3. 60% or more of U.S. adults supported marriage equality, and

  4. a "circuit split: had happened, then:

the U.S. Supreme Court might accept an appeal of a SSM lawsuit and issue a ruling that brings marriage equality to the entire country.

A "circuit split" involves two U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal having delivered opposing rulings concerning marriage by same-sex couples.

  • 2014-MAY: By this time, marriage licenses had become available for same-sex couples in 18 U.S. jurisdictions (17 states and the District of Columbia). This included the two most populous states, California and New York. In excess of 60 lawsuits were still active in federal courts in various states to legalize SSM. It was widely expected that an appeal of one of these lawsuits -- or some combination of lawsuits -- would be accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as 2015 for a final ruling later in that year.

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  • 2014-OCT: By this date, federal District Courts had made use of the 14th Amendment argument, as pioneered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Windsor v. United States case, to overturn same-sex marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin and other states. Stays had been invoked to prevent same-sex couples from marrying until appeals had been exhausted.

    These lawsuits were appealed to one of three U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal: the 4th, 7th and 10th. These Circuit Courts all eventually upheld the District Courts' rulings and confirmed that the states' bans on SSM were unconstitutional.

    These five states then appealed their lawsuits to the U.S. Supreme Court. On OCT-06, the high court decided to not accept any of the appeals. This immediately made same-sex marriage the settled law in all five states. Same sex couples there were marrying within a day or two.

    Since marriage equality had become settled law in the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeal, it also became law in all of the other states which still had SSM bans and which are under the jurisdiction of these U.S. Circuit Courts . After two weeks of uncertainty, marriage equality head spread to five additional states: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. This brought a total of 10 new states which had attained marriage equality as a result of a single decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    South Carolina should have been the 11th state to also attain marriage equality. However, the state tried to resist the inevitable. It took a month and a half before they relented and brought marriage equality to the most southern state to date. By this time, about 60% of Americans lived in locations where same-sex couples could marry. More details.

  • 2015-JAN: Florida became the 38th jurisdiction to attain marriage equality (37 states plus the District of Columbia). This resulted from a ruling by a U.S. District Court on JAN-06 in the state to the case Brenner v. Scott.

By this time, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had voted 2 to 1 that the same-sex marriage bans in three states were all constitutional. The states are Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. This presented the U.S. Supreme court with what a "circuit split:" multiple Circuit Courts of Appeal with opposing rulings. The 6th Circuit Court ruled that bans on SSM were constitutional. The 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeal had previously all ruled them unconstitutional. The only way to resolve this situation is for the high court to step in and resolve the conflicting rulings. They decided to accept the appeal of the lawsuits from these four states, consolidate them, and hold hearings on APR-28. Their ruling is expected during late June or early July.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. To Giago, "Native Americans and Homosexuality," Huffington Post, 2012-DEC-10, at:
  2. "Same-sex marriage under United States tribal jurisdictions," Wikipedia, as on 2015-FEB-24, at:
  3. "Where is it illegal to be gay?" BBC News World, 2014-FEB-10, at:
  4. Bob Unruh, "Supremes 'destroyed institution of God," WND, 2015-JUL-14, at:
  5. "County (United States)

Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > here

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Copyright 2005  to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-MAR-09
Latest update: 2015-OCT-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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