The History of the Freedom to Marry in the United States

For the past forty years, serious conversation and debate has surrounded the freedom to marry in the United States. The story of the freedom to marry has its intense ups and its devastating downs, but throughout it all, the discussion has been rooted in the desire for same-sex couples to express their love and commitment to each other in the same way that different-sex couples do: through marriage.

This timeline demonstrates the progress that the freedom to marry has experienced over the past 40 years, outlining the setbacks and celebrating the triumphs that same-sex couples have experienced. Click through each landmark election, court case, legislative win, or public endorsement to see photos, watch videos, and read more about how the United States has arrived at this pivotal period in the history of our advocacy for the freedom to marry.

1972-10-10 00:00:00

U.S. Supreme Court dismisses 'Baker v. Nelson'

The U.S. Supreme Court dismisses Baker v. Nelson, one of three cases brought by same-sex couples. challenging the denial of marriage.

1973-01-01 00:00:00

Maryland Passes Statute Banning Freedom to Marry

Maryland becomes the first state to pass a statute banning marriage between same-sex couples when it includes in its Family Law Code a line reading, “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.”

1973-11-09 00:00:00

KY Court Rules Same-Sex Couples Cannot Marry

The Kentucky Court of Appeals rules in 'Jones v. Hallahan' that same-sex couples may not marry. The case comes after Marjorie Jones and Tracy Knight applied for and were denied a marriage license in Jefferson County, KY.

1974-05-20 00:00:00

Washington denies challenge to marriage ban

The Court of Appeals of Washington denies the case of Seattle residents John Singer and Paul Barwick, who challenged the denial of the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

1975-04-21 00:00:00

Marriage Licenses in Colorado Spark Federal Lawsuit

In Boulder, Colorado, County Clerk Clela Rorex issues marriage licenses to six same-sex couples, explaining that she found nothing in Colorado law prohibiting her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

1993-05-05 00:00:00

Hawaii Supreme Court Rules in Baehr v. Miike

The Hawaii Supreme Court rules in 'Baehr v. Lewin' that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Hawaii Constitution.

1996-09-21 00:00:00

President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

President Bill Clinton signs the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law.

1996-12-03 00:00:00

Hawaii Judge Sides with Same-Sex Couples

Following the world’s first-ever trial on the freedom to marry, led by co-counsel Dan Foley and Evan Wolfson, Judge Kevin Chang rules that the state did not have a legitimate reason for depriving same-sex couples of the freedom to marry.

1998-11-03 00:00:00

Anti-Gay Amendment Limits Marriage in Hawaii

Anti-gay forces succeed in amending the Hawaii Constitution so as to prevent the courts from ending the exclusion of same-sex couples; under the Amendment, only the legislature can now cure that discrimination, notwithstanding the Equal Protection Clause.

1999-09-22 00:00:00

California passes domestic partnerships

California becomes the first state to create a domestic partnership statute, allowing same-sex couples to receive some, but not all, of the protections afforded by marriage.

1999-12-09 00:00:00

Hawaii Supreme Court Denies the Freedom to Marry

The Hawaii Supreme Court, bound by the new restrictive constitutional amendment, dismisses the couples’ challenge and leaves standing the denial of marriage.

1999-12-20 00:00:00

Vermont rules in "Baker v. State of Vermont"

The Vermont Supreme Court rules in 'Baker v. State of Vermont' (a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) that same-sex couples must be treated equally to different-sex married couples.

2000-12-07 00:00:00

Amendment in Nebraska bans the freedom to marry

Anti-gay forces in Nebraska push through the discriminatory Initiative Measure 416 at the ballot, constitutionally prohibiting the state from respecting any form of family status or recognition for same-sex couples.

2003-01-01 00:00:00

Freedom to Marry is Founded

Evan Wolfson founds Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide.

2003-11-18 00:00:00

MA Supreme Court offers ruling in marriage case

The Massachusetts Supreme Court rules in 'Goodridge v. Department of Public Health' (a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) that the state constitution mandates the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

2004-05-17 00:00:00

Massachusetts passes the freedom to marry

Massachusetts becomes the first state in the United States to allow same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry.

2004-11-02 00:00:00

Anti-Marriage Amendments pass in eleven states

Anti-gay forces in eleven states, marshaled by Karl Rove, push through constitutional amendments to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

2005-01-19 00:00:00

Louisiana Bans Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

The Louisiana Supreme Court reinstates a hurtful anti-family ban on marriage between same-sex couples, bringing the number of states with constitutional amendments against marriage to 17.

2005-04-20 00:00:00

Connecticut Passes Civil Union Law

Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell signs a civil union bill into law, affording same-sex couples some – but not all – of the projections that marriage provides.

2005-09-06 00:00:00

California Governor Vetoes Freedom to Marry

The California legislature becomes the first state legislature to pass a freedom to marry bill.

2005-11-08 00:00:00

Proposition 2 Bans Marriage for Texas Couples

The discriminatory constitutional amendment Proposition 2 is passed in Texas, constitutionally excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

2006-10-25 00:00:00

New Jersey Passes Civil Union Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court issues a unanimous ruling in 'Lewis v. Harris' (a case brought by Lambda Legal) that same-sex couples are entitled to all state-level spousal rights and responsibilities.

2006-11-07 00:00:00

Constitutional Amendments Ban Marriage in 7 States

Anti-gay activists continue their anti-marriage, anti-family agenda by passing constitutional amendments denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry in seven more states – Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

2007-04-21 00:00:00

WA, OR & NH step toward the freedom to marry

Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire signs a domestic partnership bill into law.

2008-05-15 00:00:00

CA Supreme Court passes freedom to marry

The California Supreme Court determines in "In Re: Marriage Cases," a case brought by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, that a state statute excluding same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional.

2008-05-22 00:00:00

Maryland passes domestic partnership law

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signs into law a domestic partnership bill allowing same-sex couples in Maryland some – but not all – of the benefits that marriage affords. The law takes effect on July 1.

2008-10-10 00:00:00

Connecticut Supreme Court passes marriage

The Connecticut Supreme Court rules in 'Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health,' a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, that same-sex couples are entitled to the freedom to marry.

2008-11-04 00:00:00

Proposition 8 Takes Away Freedom to Marry in CA

Anti-gay forces push through Proposition 8, an anti-gay constitutional amendment that strips away same-sex couples’ freedom to marry and restricts marriage to different-sex couples. Similar amendments are passed in Florida and Arizona.

2009-04-03 00:00:00

Iowa Supreme Court passes freedom to marry

The Iowa Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in favor of the freedom to marry in 'Varnum v. Brien,' a case brought by Lambda Legal.

2009-04-07 00:00:00

Vermont legislature passes freedom to marry

Vermont pushes past civil union and embraces the freedom to marry when the state legislature overwhelmingly votes to override a veto from Governor Jim Douglas.

2009-05-06 00:00:00

Maine legislature passes freedom to marry

Maine Governor John Baldacci signs a freedom to marry bill into law previously approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives.

2009-05-26 00:00:00

CA Supreme Court upholds Prop. 8

The California Supreme Court rules, in a case brought by Lambda Legal, the ACLU and NCLR, that, notwithstanding Prop 8, marriages between same-sex couples that occurred in the four months between June and November remain valid.

2009-05-31 00:00:00

NV & WI Pass Domestic Parntership Laws

Nevada approves a broad domestic partnership bill after the state legislature overrides a veto from the state’s governor.

2009-06-03 00:00:00

New Hampshire passes freedom to marry

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signs into law a freedom to marry bill approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives.

2009-11-03 00:00:00

Freedom to marry law overturned in Maine

Anti-gay forces in Maine push through an anti-gay ballot measure to overturn the freedom to marry in the state and restrict marriage to different-sex couples.

2009-12-18 00:00:00

District of Columbia passes freedom to marry

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty signs a freedom to marry bill into law after it passes by a large majority of City Council members. The law takes effect on March 3, 2010.

2010-07-08 00:00:00

U.S. District Court finds DOMA Unconstitutional

A U.S. District Court rules in 'Gill v. Office of Personnel Management' (a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) and 'Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services' (a case brought by MA Attorney General Martha Coakley) that DOMA’s Section 3, which restricts marriage to different-sex couples, is unconstitutional.

2010-08-01 00:00:00

A Majority of the U.S. Supports the Freedom to Marry

CNN releases the first poll to show a national majority supporting the freedom to marry.

2010-08-04 00:00:00

CA Court declares Prop 8 Unconstitutional

The U.S. District Court of Northern California declares, in a case brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses, finding it unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.

2011-01-31 00:00:00

Illinois passes civil union law

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signs a civil union bill into law after it is approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives.

2011-02-23 00:00:00

Obama Administration Stops Defending DOMA

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder declare that because it is indefensible under the constitutional command of equal protection, the Administration will no longer defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

2011-03-16 00:00:00

Respect for Marriage Act is Introduced

The Respect for Marriage Act, the bill that would overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is introduced.

2011-06-13 00:00:00

CA Bankruptcy Court declares DOMA Unconstitutional

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles releases an opinion finding Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

2011-06-24 00:00:00

New York passes the freedom to marry

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a freedom to marry bill into law, more than doubling the number of Americans living in a state with the freedom to marry.

2012-01-26 00:00:00

Maine begins proactive marriage ballot intiative

The Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition delivers more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot. The measure would allow same-sex couples to receive a marriage license while also protecting religious freedom.

2012-02-02 00:00:00

Respect for Marriage Coalition Launches

Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign team up to launch the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a group of over 50 civil rights, labor, progressive, faith, student, women’s, and LGBT organizations dedicated to repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

2012-02-07 00:00:00

Appeals Court affirms Prop 8 is unconstitutional

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the August 4 ruling that found that Proposition 8 in California violates the U.S. Constitution.

2012-02-13 00:00:00

Washington passes freedom to marry

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signs the freedom to marry into law after the state Senate and House approve it.

2012-02-16 00:00:00

NJ Governor vetoes freedom to marry

The New Jersey legislature approves the freedom to marry, but soon after, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoes the bill.

2012-02-22 00:00:00

U.S. District Court finds DOMA Unconstitutional

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White rules in 'Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management' (a case brought by Lambda Legal), declaring that DOMA’s Section 3, which restricts marriage to different-sex couples, is unconstitutional.

The History of the Freedom to Marry in the United States

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