A common dictionary definition of family is "the basic unit in society having two or more adults living together and cooperating in the care and rearing of children." How do same-sex couples fit into this definition? Despite the all-inclusive description, same-sex couples and LGBT families have long been excluded from the legal definitions of family. But things are changing, and same-sex couples have made strides toward equal recognition of their families.
Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in 13 States and D.C.
In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that the state law barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution and ordered the legislature to remedy the discrimination within six months (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health). In February 2004, the court ruled that offering civil unions instead of civil marriage would not meet the requirements set forth in Goodridge. As a result, same-sex couples in Massachusetts can enter into civil marriages, and thousands have done so in the last 10 years.
In October 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court likewise ruled that the state's civil union law discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and was unconstitutional and that "the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a [constitutionally] cognizable harm." The court held that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry, and the state started issuing marriage licenses in November 2008.
In April 2009, Iowa and Vermont joined the ranks of states with full marriage equality. In Iowa, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional and that same-sex couples must have access to marriage. And Vermont became the first state to enact marriage equality through legislative action when the state legislature legalized same-sex marriage. The law went into effect on September 1, 2009.
In June 2009, the New Hampshire legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill. Though Governor John Lynch personally opposes gay marriage, he signed the bill into law the same day. "Today, we are standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear that they will receive the same rights, responsibilities -- and respect -- under New Hampshire law," Lynch said. The bill became effective in January 2010.
In March 2010, same-sex marriage became legal in D.C. after the city council's vote went through a Congressional approval period without a glitch.
In 2011, the New York legislature legalized gay marriage.
A same-sex marriage bill was approved by Maine voters, 53-47 percent, on November 6, 2012, and on December 29, 2012, same-sex marriage became legal in Maine.
Similarly, on November 6, 2012, voters in Maryland and Washington State approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
With the May 2, 2013 passage of its same-sex marriage bill, Rhode Island became the tenth U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriage. The new law takes effect on August 1, 2013.
On May 7, 2013 the Delaware Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The law took effect in Delaware on July 1, 2013.
On May 13, 2013, the Minnesota State Senate voted 37-30 to legalize same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriages will begin in Minnesota on August 1, 2013.
Same-Sex Marriage in California
After a long, drawn-out marriage equality battle, California became the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriage. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that limiting marriage to persons of the opposite sex violates the California Constitution and ordered the language stricken from the statute. From June until November of 2008, approximately 18,000 same-sex couples wed in California. But the passage of Proposition 8 (the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage) in November 2008 once again limited marriage in California to opposite-sex couples.
In January 2010, a landmark federal trial took place in California -- involving a challenge to Prop. 8 based on federal law. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional (the case is called Perry v. Schwarzenegger). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Walker's opinion, but stayed his order, meaning that no same-sex marriages could take place until the appeal was completed. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) as Hollingsworth v. Perry. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Perry because, it found, Prop. 8 supporters had no “standing” to litigate the issue (they could not show a sufficient connection to any harm resulting from the lower court’s ruling).
The June 26 decision cleared the path for same-sex marriages to resume in California, but they could not take place until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay of the lower court’s order. The Ninth Circuit surprised everyone by dissolving the stay only two days after SCOTUS’ decision. Once that happened, California Governor Jerry Brown directed all court officials and clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately. County clerks and registrar offices across California have added additional staff and officiants to handle the wave of gay marriages that began on Monday, July 1, 2013.
If you are in a same-sex couple and were married during the 4-month-period in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal in California, your marriage is still valid.
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