The History of Gay Marriage

Marriage - June 12, 2023
2 brides leaving their marriage ceremony in celebration as confetti is being thrown at them.

At LegalShield, our mission is to make access to justice available for all. We want to give people the legal access they deserve, when life throws legal concerns their way. We’ve assisted millions of people and businesses in protecting their rights for over 50 years. Our founder, Harland Stonecipher, made it his goal to offer affordable and fast legal protection to the public. When it comes to the law, we have a history of helping people access their right to the impartial application of justice. It’s essential to remember our roots so that we can move forward with pride.

Since our history is important to us at LegalShield, we want to mark Pride Month by revisiting another important part of our nation’s past: the history of gay marriage. Same-sex marriage. It’s a topic that many people seem to overlook. Is same-sex marriage legal in all states? Yes. What else is there to discuss? Gay marriage has been legal for less than a decade. For many years, this issue was hotly debated, argued against, and fought for all over the country. For some people, it was their life’s work to ensure that same-sex couples had equal rights to legal unions.

When was gay marriage legalized in the U.S.? Before we can answer that, we have to go back in time. We’ve laid out some of the key moments in recent history that built toward legalizing gay marriage. Let’s take a look.

The 1990s: Change Begins2 brides during their gay wedding reciting vows to each other.

A same-sex couple in the 1990s was able to live in a domestic partnership. However, this kind of civil union was less than ideal. Gay people in domestic partnerships were unable to access over 1,000 federal rights and responsibilities that were otherwise available to married couples. This, combined with other controversial laws and expectations, caused people to start creating more organized efforts for gay rights.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

This final decade of the 20th century was tumultuous at best. In 1993, President Clinton signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. This policy allowed gay individuals to serve in the military. Though “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was an effort to keep everyone happy, it inadvertently led to the discharge of thousands of serving individuals from the U.S. military.

The March on Washington

In response to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” roughly one million people organized a protest on April 25, 1993. The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation was organized to raise awareness surrounding the hate crimes and ongoing discrimination that gay people faced. Some famous individuals attended this event, including RuPaul and Jesse Jackson.

The Defense of Marriage Act

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At the federal level, this act defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. DOMA prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits because they were not legally recognized as spouses. Individual states were still able to legalize gay marriage, but couples could not access joint tax returns, government insurance, and many other federal rights.

2000-2010: The Fight Continues

In this decade, many legal decisions were made both for and against same-sex marriage.


2003 was a particularly rough year.

  • Lawrence v. Texas saw the United States Supreme Court strike down the sodomy law.
  • But President Bush spoke out against marriage being made legal for gay and lesbian people.
  • Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, but that did not mean other states would follow suit.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a constitutional amendment: Marriage was between a man and a woman.


In another year of victory and loss, California achieved marriage equality. Only a few months later, Proposition 8 was introduced, once again defining marriage as between a man and a woman. California lost marriage equality in the same year.

2010-2015: When Was Gay Marriage Legalized?

A new decade! You may be thinking, “It’s 2010. Is same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states yet?” However, when 2010 rolled around the corner, there were still some ups and downs ahead.

20112 newly married gay men cutting their wedding cake.. One man is kissing the cheek of the other groom.

Both the New York State House and Senate passed same-sex marriage legislation. It took effect on July 24, resulting in New York becoming the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage.


Maine, Maryland and Washington all legalized same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to favor the marriage rights of gay and lesbian couples.


Two critical legal cases occurred during this year. Hollingsworth v. Perry: Remember Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman? Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional as it removed rights of a minority class with no rational basis. United States v. Windsor: The Defense of Marriage Act had been in place for almost 20 years, but this legal case determined that DOMA was unconstitutional.

June 26, 2015: Obergefell v. Hodges

This gay marriage case changed the country. In a landmark 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that bans on the recognition of gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions were unconstitutional as well. Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, same-sex marriages were granted the right to full legal recognition in all 50 states.

2023: Do We Have a Same-Sex Marriage Law Now?

In November of 2022, the Senate passed legislation regarding same-sex marriages. In addition to protecting gay marriage, this bill also ensured that interracial couples could benefit from federal law. This legislation updates provisions that define marriage as between a man and woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with language that recognizes any marriage between two people that is valid under state law and requires states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This legislation would protect married gay and lesbian couples if the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was overturned. Despite gay marriage being legal in the U.S., there are still barriers for same-sex couples. Read what you should be doing if you are denied housing.

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