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Marriage equality in the United States

When and where did gay marriage (a.k.a.
same-sex marriage, SSM) first became legal?
SSM has now became settled law everywhere
except the territory of American Samoa.

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Throughout this web site, the term "LGBT" refers to the
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual community.
"SSM" refers to marriage by same-sex couples.

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LGBT symbol Public opinion and court decisions interact with each other:

On 2013-JUN-26, two decisions by the U.S. Supreme court had a profound effect on the marriage equality movement. They were:

  • Windsor v. United States which declared an important section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. This required the federal government to give many married same-sex couples access to 1,138 federal protections and benefits which had been previously given only to opposite-sex married couples.

  • Hollingsworth v. Perry which upheld a federal District Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in California -- the state with the largest population.

Before this date, most of the activity that had legalized same-sex marriage in various states resulted from votes in state Legislatures or by votes by the public on citizen initiatives. Since that date, most change has resulted from decisions in state and federal courts.

Ted Olson, the Republican lawyer who was one of the lawyers arguing in favor of marriage equality in Hollingsworth said:

"Each court decision reinforces public opinion, and the public opinion helps reinforce court decisions."

He noted that every time a court decision declares a same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, pictures and stories in the media show:

"... people holding hands and beaming with joy that they've now finally had an opportunity to be married."

That causes more people to sympathize with same-sex couples and their children. This, in turn, facilitates additional court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage. Scientists call this a positive feedback loop. The result is rapid social change, and a feeling among the public that marriage equality is inevitable. Many commentators have mentioned that marriage equality is the fastest changing social change in American history. Others were slavery, allowing profoundly deaf couples to marry, allowing women to vote, school desegregation, and interracial marriage.

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As of 2015-JUN-26: Marriage equality attained in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 of 5 territories:

The following table lists the dates when same-sex marriage was established throughout the U.S.. These are the dates when same-sex couples were able to obtain marriage licenses on a sustained basis.

For more information on the District of Columbia, an individual state or territory, please go to the links in our same-sex marriage menu.

# Date State(s)
Massachusetts 1
California 2
Maine 3
New Hampshire
District of Columbia
New York state
Washington state
13 & 14
Rhode Island, Minnesota
New Jersey
New Mexico
21 to 24
Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin 4
25 & 26
Colorado, 4 Indiana 1
27 & 28
Nevada 3 West Virginia
North Carolina
31 & 32
Alaska, Arizona
Missouri 6
South Carolina
Territory of Guam
41 to 51
U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizes same-sex marriage across all 50 states, the District of Columbia. and 4 out of 5 territories.

Not listed above were:

  • False alarms: These occurred in a few states where marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples -- typically by over-eager clerks who jumped the gun without authorization from the courts. Often, marriages were performed that were not legal and were later nullified. This happened in New York state, California, and elsewhere.
  • Short duration SSM windows opened up: There were many instances in which a state or federal trial court legalized same-sex marriage only to make marriages unavailable by a stay shortly afterwards. After the court's ruling and before its stay, a few couples had married. Utah is perhaps the most spectacular example. In late 2013-DEC, a District Court legalized same-sex marriage, and refused to stay their decision. After multiple attempts by the state, a stay was eventually arranged. By that time, it was early 2014-JAN and about 1,300 couples were able to marry even thought they had no assurance that their marriages would be recognized. The State of Utah refused to recognize these marriages, but was later forced to do so.

On 2015-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v.Hodges and legalized marriage across the entire country, including all 50 states, 5 inhabited territories, and the District of Columbia. Within a few weeks, only the Territory of American Samoa and a handfull of individual counties in the U.S. mainland were refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. More details.

The federal Social Security Administration has prepared a list of states (including the District of Columbia) and a second list of territories in alphabetic order, showing the date when gay marriages were first available. In the cases of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and Utah, same-sex couples were able to marry for a while until a ban was reinstated. Still later gay marriages were resumed. 9

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2015-FEB-09: U.S. map of 37 states and DC, which allowed same-sex couples to marry at that time:

same-sex marriage i the U.S.

Orange: 37 states + DC: marriage equality attained as of FEB-09.
Black: 12 states: Only opposite-sex couples could marry at that time.
Missouri provided licenses o same-sex couples in some locations.

Same-sex couples in Canada have been able to marry since mid-2005.

In addition to the above:

  • A District Court in Nebraska had legalized SSM, but a stay was in place preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court allowed marriages by same-sex couples in Alabama to proceed. However, the Alabama Supreme Court has ordered that no marriage licenses be made available to such couples. This brings back memories of the school segregation crisis during the 1960's in the deep South. It may take a while to sort out this chaotic situation.

In early June, after this graphic was prepared, the Territory of Guam attained marriage equality.

Finally, by the end of 2015-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the entire country: in all 50 states, 4 of the 5 territories and the District of Columbia. Whether the High Court's decision applied to the U.S. territory of American Samoa was unclear, and remains so on 2016-FEB-14, at this essay's latest update.

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2015-JUL-19: About the Territory of American Samoa the last U.S. state/district/territory to hold out against marriage equality:

Persons born in American Samoa are U.S. nationals, not U.S. citizens. They elect a representative to Congress who can vote in committee hearings but not in a House vote. They have no Senator. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that made gay marriage legal across the U.S. may not apply to American Samoa. The territorial government is currently considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry there. The governments of the other four occupied American Territories -- Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have already implemented marriage equality.

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  1. Passed by Legislature, following an order from the state Supreme Court.
  2. Legalized by the state Supreme Court on the date shown. Approximately 36,000 persons had been married to a person of the same sex when same-sex marriages were banned. Voters had very narrowly passed a citizen initiative called Proposition 8 (a.k.a. Proposition H-ATE) during election day in 2008-NOV. Marriage equality was restored by a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry on 2013-JUN-26.
  3. Maine Voters terminate SSMs by plebiscite. Voters later restore SSMs by another plebiscite on 2012-NOV-06. Same-sex couples were again able to marry starting at midnight, 2012-DEC-29,
  4. Five states directly attained marriage equality as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on 2014-OCT-06 to refuse to grant certiorari (appeals) to four same-sex lawsuits in the 4th, 7th, and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.
  5. Six states later attain marriage equality indirectly as a result of the same Supreme Court decision of 2014-OCT-06. That decision made same-sex marriage established law in the 4th, 7th, and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal and will legalize SSM in all of the states over which these courts have jurisdiction.
  6. Missouri is a special case. Rulings by two state judges and one federal judge during early 2014-NOV had:
    • Made marriage licenses available to same-sex couples in the County of St. Louis and the independent City of St. Louis.

    • Required the State of Missouri to recognize legal marriages solemnized by same-sex couples in other states.

    Missourians throughout the state had to travel to St. Louis County or the City of St. Louis, obtain a marriage license, and be married anywhere in the state. Since same-sex marriage had come to parts of the state of Missouri, we listed listing Missouri as the 33rd state to attain marriage equality.
  7. In Montana, same-sex couples have been marrying since 2014-NOV-19. Attorney General Fox had appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but has essentially no chance of reversing the District Court ruling. His appeal failed. Montana remained the 35th state to have attained marriage equality.
  8. See: "Same-sex marriage in the United States," Wikipedia, as on 2015-FEB-07, at:
  9. "GN 00210.003 Dates States and U.S. Territories Permitted Same-Sex Marriages, Social Security Administration, 2016-FEB-05, at:

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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.

  • Rebecca Nelson, "How 2014 Was the Beginning of the End for the Gay-Marriage Fight," National Journal, 2014-DEC-17, at:
  • Pierre Tristam, Ed., "As 32 States Now Recognize Gay Marriage, Pam Bondi Files Latest Delaying Tactic," Flagler Live, 2014-OCT-28, at:

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Copyright 2014 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2014-SEP-28
Last updated 2016-FEB-14
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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