Marriage Equality in the Land of Liberty: A 50-State Rundown
One could argue that it all began in Massachusetts. Although gay marriage had been discussed, debated and outlawed across the nation for decades, the 2004 passage of marriage equality in Massachusetts touched off a frenzy of legislative action that saw dozens of state legislatures revisiting the issue of same-sex marriage. Spurred by conservative groups and religious leaders who feared gays would descend upon their corner of the world, demanding (gasp) equal treatment under the law, many states moved quickly, adding Defense of Marriage Amendments to their constitutions. When the chips fell after the 2004 election, 13 states had written sexual orientation–based discrimination into their constitutions, and gays and lesbians discovered they had more enemies than they initially imagined. Fortunately, a few progressive-minded states held onto the belief that, in a free society, everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, deserves the right to marry the person they love. Over the next six years, LGBT advocates in these states worked tirelessly to ensure equal rights for all. Below is a state-by-state update on marriage equality as of press time in 2011.
LEGALLY WED AND LOVING IT
Six states and the District of Columbia have taken to heart the rights of all people, guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The following states protect the civil rights of their citizens by ensuring marriage equality for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation:
MARRIAGE FOR SOME, UNIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS FOR OTHERS
A handful of states recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states and jurisdictions, while keeping the kibosh on same-sex marriages on their own turf. In addition to recognizing some gay marriages (sometimes determined by the date the marriage occurred), the states listed below provide government recognition of same-sex relationships. The degree to which each state provides marital rights to same-sex couples varies by state. While California’s domestic partnership arrangement provides almost all of the same rights as traditional, heterosexual marriage, Rhode Island and Maryland laws provide partnership agreements that convey only limited rights upon registered same-sex couples.
In addition to California, five states provide civil union or domestic partnership arrangements that confer broad marital rights upon same-sex couples. Despite legally acknowledging these registered, same-sex relationships, the following states do not recognize legal gay marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions and statutory or constitutional bans on same-sex marriage remain in place:
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Not all partnership agreements are created equally. While some states’ arrangements grant same-sex couples numerous marital rights, encompassing nearly all the benefits that accompany traditional marriage, the following states bestow only limited rights upon registered same-sex couples. All of the states listed below continue to ban same-sex marriage either by statute or through constitutional amendment:
THE BARE MINIMUM
Still another state acknowledges legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, but does not permit gay marriage, nor recognize other forms of same-sex unions. Legislation either legalizing same-sex marriage or seeking to further restrict the rights of homosexuals to equal protection under the law is currently pending in the state listed below:
A MATTER OF LAW
Thirty-one states have failed to even remotely grasp the understanding that our nation was founded upon the principles of fairness and equality for all. To that effect, these states promote government-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples, and do not offer any form of recognition for same-sex relationships. Though all of the remaining states expressly ban marriage between same-sex partners, the method by which each state outlaws marriage between homosexuals varies. The states listed below ban gay marriage through statute, that is, the states enforce written laws that restrict marriage to opposite sex couples. With a trend in recent years toward either expanding marital rights for same-sex couples or enhancing prohibitions on gay marriage by way of a constitutional ban, the following states are some to keep an eye on in the coming years:
The passage of marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2004 got conservative activists’ panties in a wad. Fearing “activist judges” would force every man, woman and child into a gay marriage, states rushed to add defense of marriage amendments to their constitutions. Prior to the decision in Massachusetts, only three states had enacted constitutional bans on same-sex. In just four short years, a flurry of legislative action saw 26 states write discrimination into their constitutions in the form of amendments banning same-sex marriage. A constitutional ban on gay marriage differs from a statutory ban. Constitutional bans carry weight in that they prevent judges from interpreting the state constitution to allow same-sex marriages or simply overturning laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. Additionally, unless they are clearly found to violate the U.S. Constitution, state constitutional bans on gay marriage are difficult to overturn. The following states have implemented constitutional bans on same-sex marriage:
JUST PLAIN PARANOID
Fearful that gay couples might pull the wool over the eyes of reasonable, god-fearing folk to obtain a sliver of recognition under the law, several states took pains to enhance their constitutional bans on same-sex marriage beyond simply forbidding use of the M-word. In order to prevent the corruption of straight marriages across the land (because logic, not pseudo-religious rhetoric, dictates that gay unions threaten the sanctity of marriage and the safety of all children), the following ultra-homophobic states have enacted constitutional bans on both gay marriage and all forms of same-sex relationships, including civil unions and domestic partnerships: