The Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S. — A Timeline

The Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S. — A Timeline

It’s become common knowledge that same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015. However, you may not be familiar with the full details of how this decision came to be. The struggle for marriage equality was a long, controversial, and even scandalous process. It lasted for many decades, and it has become a major part of U.S. history. Keep reading for a full breakdown of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. and explore the timeline of the most important laws and events. 

The 2015 Decision 

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the United States. for quite some time now after the Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015. This civil rights case ended with a decision by the United States Supreme Court to make all same-sex marriages legal in all U.S. states. What’s more, same-sex couples gained the same rights, responsibilities, and federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. 

Essentially, the Supreme Court proclaimed it unconstitutional to prohibit same-sex unions. The result was the legalization of gay marriage according to the equal protection and due process clauses in the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, it banned all states from prohibiting gay marriage. 

While the results of the Obergefell v. Hodges are still resonating around the world, many don’t know the details behind it. Namely, this was a combination of six different court cases with 16 same-sex couples. The couples were from Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. 

Plaintiff Jim Obergefell started the case. He took to court when his state banned him from including his hame on the death certificate of his husband. The case ended on the 26th of June, 2015. It was a landmark decision since LGBT couples have been fighting for marriage equality since 1970. 

The LGBTQ Marriage Timeline

The following timeline of same-sex marriages in the U.S. contains significant events and efforts to legalize gay marriage. The people and the politicians questioned the laws regarding homosexuality as far back as the 1950s. Back then, there were several events that placed the spotlight on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. 

For example, in 1953, the Post Office held up the distribution of a magazine because of an “obscene” cover story on gay marriage. Several years later, in 1958, the Supreme Court proclaimed that it was illegal to ban homosexual writings under the premise of obscenity. Additionally, the 1960s also saw similar events. However, the real struggle to legalize gay marriage began in 1970. 


1970 — Michael McConnel and Jack Baker, a gay couple, appeal for a license to marry. However, their case is denied, and they take the matter to the Supreme Court. 

1971 — McConnel and Baker marry after obtaining a license in Minnesota. This is the first example of legal gay marriage in the U.S.

1973 — Maryland bans gay marriage for the first time in the U.S. Moreover, Colorado grants six marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Virginia also prohibits gay marriage. 

1977 — California, Wyoming, and Florida enact bans on gay marriage. 


1984 — The first-ever domestic partnership law is put in place in Berkeley, California. 

1987 — A mass same-sex wedding occurs at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As many as 2,000 gay couples get married as over 7,000 spectators observe. Furthermore, courts in California and New York modify the legal definition of family to include same-sex couples. 


1991 — “Can’t Help Help Loving That Man,” an episode of Roc featuring the first-ever same-sex wedding on TV is broadcast across the nation. 

1992 — In Massachusetts, Levi Strauss & Co. grants same-sex employees full domestic partner benefits. 

1993 — The Supreme Court of Hawaii prohibits all bans on gay marriages unless they were enacted due to a “compelling” reason. However, Hawaii lawmakers pass a bill that prohibits gay marriage. 

1996 — President Clinton approves the Defense of Marriage Act and same-sex marriages from being recognized on a federal level. Moreover, the UAA or Unitarian Universalist Association calls for marriage equality for gay couples. Also, the United Methodist Church bans same-sex marriage ceremonies in their churches. 

1997 — Same-sex marriages are prohibited in Minnesota, and the state refuses to recognize unions that were legalized in other states. Hawaii offers domestic partnership benefits to gay couples, becoming the first U.S. state to do so. Voters in Hawaii and Alaska agree with same-sex marriage bans. What’s more, the Baker v. Vermont case in Vermont ends with a ruling to grant equal or equivalent status to same-sex marriages. 


2000 — California approves Proposition 22. It includes an added statement that nullifies same-sex marriages. Vermont establishes the notion of civil unions, becoming the first U.S. state to do so. Nebraska approves a constitutional amendment that describes marriage as a bond between a woman and a man. 

2003 — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognizes same-sex marriages.

2004 — Massachusetts lawmakers argue that civil unions are discriminatory to same-sex couples. San Francisco, California, issues marriage licenses. Furthermore, a clerk in New Mexico attempts to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but a state attorney proclaims them invalid. President George W. Bush argues for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It defines marriage as a bond between a woman and a man.Additionally, 11 states, including Mississippi, Michigan, Arkansas, and others, agree with state constitutional amendments and define marriage as a bond between a woman and a man. 

2005 — Connecticut legalizes same-sex marriage. A New York state judge attempts to legalize gay marriage, but the governor vetoes the decision.

2008 — California legalizes gay marriage only to have it prohibited by voters five months later. Arizona and Florida overturn their same-sex marriage bans.

2009 — Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine also overturn the ban.


2010 — California’s ban on gay and lesbian marriage is proclaimed to be unconstitutional. 

2011 — President Barack Obama states that the DOMA is unconstitutional. New York rules that same-sex marriages are legal. 

2012 — Maryland, Washington, and Maine allow same-sex marriage. 

2013 — Illinois, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Hawaii all legalize gay marriage. The Supreme Court proclaims the DOMA (Section 3) unconstitutional. 

2014 — South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Kansas legalize same-sex unions. 

2015 — Obergefell v. Hodges leads to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all U.S. states, according to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Threats to the Ruling 

Still, even after the successful results of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, several states have recently tried to prohibit same-sex marriage through various bills. For example, states like Indiana or Florida have old and outdated laws. Those laws allow lawmakers and politicians to try to bypass the Supreme Court ruling and prohibit gay marriage. Yet, the results of Obergefell v. Hodges quickly shut down their efforts. 

As shown in the timeline, various states took many efforts to proclaim marriage as only a union between men and women. Some, like Florida, have attempted to enact those laws again after 2015. However, they were mainly unsuccessful. 

Other states, like Oklahoma, have found loopholes in the law to hinder the rights of the LBGTQ population in some way. Oklahoma recently passed a bill that discriminates against gay adoption. 


You’ve seen in some of our examples how same-sex marriages are being threatened in the U.S. However, the fight is still ongoing, and even though same-sex marriage is legal, LGBTQ couples still face discrimination and numerous other issues on a daily basis. Hopefully, those problems will change with time, allowing full freedom to LGBTQ couples.

If you want to know more about gay marriage, read it here.