Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
Marriage Equality
Supreme Court
February 26, 2010

After more than a decade wrangling over same-sex marriage in courts, legislatures and through ballot initiatives, Americans now have a patchwork of laws across the 50 states and the federal government. As of this writing, five states issue licenses for same-sex marriages and two have explicit pledges to recognize same-sex marriages granted by other states. Forty states have laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. And, at the federal level, the "Defense of Marriage Act," prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and allows states not to recognize the same-sex marriages formed in other states.

>>View an interactive map of same-sex state marriage laws in every state.

Recent history of same-sex marriage in America
Same-sex marriage first arose as a major national issue in 1993, after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must show a compelling reason not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling led directly to conservative efforts to pass legislation blocking same-sex marriage across the country, and indeed, Hawaii eventually amended their constitution to stop same-sex marriage. Before any other state court or legislature approved same-sex marriage, legislation passed in Utah, Alaska and in the US Congress opposing it.

Though a few states passed laws recognizing civil unions, no state legalized same-sex marriage until 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage a legal right under the state constitution, and gave the legislature six months to comply with their ruling. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In 2005, the Connecticut legislature adopted a measure allowing civil unions with all the rights of marriage. But in 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the law, and ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry under the state constitution.

Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex marriage pushed laws through legislatures and ballot initiatives, often called by their proponents "Defense of Marriage Acts," which define marriage as between a man and a woman. The Alliance Defense Fund, a religious-conservative legal organization that opposes same-sex marriage, tracks the spread of "Defense of Marriage Acts," with a project called DOMA Watch.

Perhaps the most high-profile victory for opponents of same-sex marriage came during the 2008 election, with the passage of Proposition 8 in California, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court had invalidated Proposition 22, which had banned same-sex marriage, creating a brief window in which the state recognized same-sex marriages. In response, voters passed Proposition 8, and California's state Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 2009, but also ruled that couples married before Prop 8 could remain married.

A few other states began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2009. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Iowans have a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Shortly after, the Vermont legislature overrode a veto by Governor Jim Douglas, and passed a law allowing same-sex marriage. Maine's legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, but that was repealed shortly after by a ballot initiative. And in June, 2009, New Hampshire's Governor signed into law an act legalizing same-sex marriage.

The battle will continue to play out in the courts and legislatures, and advocates on both sides are closely watching Boies and Olson's lawsuit, the outcome of which could have repercussions on the debate for years to come.
References and Reading:

Advocates for Same-Sex Marriage
Human Rights Campaign
"The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality."

The Gill Foundation
"The Gill Foundation is one of the nation's largest funders of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights work." Site also includes an interactive map of same-sex marriage laws by state.

Freedom to Marry
A campaign organized to promote same-sex marriage nation-wide.

Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage
Alliance Defense Fund
"The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation." The ADF also runs DOMA Watch, which advocates for the passage of "Defense of Marriage Acts" across the U.S.

National Organization for Marriage
"The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it. "

The Family Research Council: Marriage and Family
"Family Research Council champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society."

Also This Week:
Once adversaries in 2000's Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case, now two of the nation's premier lawyers one conservative and one liberal have teamed up to make the constitutional case for same-sex marriage.

Boise and Olson on Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC.

Trace the fight in the courts, voting booths and public opinion.

Explore the JOURNAL's complete coverage of the landmark ruling.

Bill Moyers celebrates the poet and her work.

Celebrate poetry with selections from the JOURNAL and the Moyers Digital Archives.

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ