Marriage between people of the same gender has been one of the most prominent social issues in the United States in recent years, though its origins date back to the civil rights movements of the 1960s. The laws addressing same-sex marriage are complex and change often, as there is no federal legislation on the matter. That means that each of the 50 states regulate the matter individually.

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Same Sex Marriage States

As of January 2014, there are 17 states that permit same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois (June 1, 2014), Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia also permits same-sex marriages. It should be noted that Oklahoma and Utah have had laws banning same sex marriage struck down by federal judges; however, these court orders were stayed by the United States Supreme Court pending further appeals. In addition, four other states permit the legalization of a same-sex relationship in a different form than a marriage, for example, as a civil union or domestic partnership. These are Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin. Furthermore, eight tribal jurisdictions also enacted legislation permitting same-sex marriages. Note that this doesn’t include states that permit civil unions or domestic partnerships in some parts of their territories.

Laws in Other States

The situation is even more complex in states where same-sex marriage isn’t legally permitted. Since 2002, 32 states have adopted amendments to their constitution expressly defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning the possibility for introducing same-sex marriage without changing the state constitution. The exact extent of the ban depends and may range from a ban on just marriage, through a prohibition of marriages and civil unions, to the total ban on any marriage-like contract between two persons of the same gender. Note that this doesn’t exclude the possibility of an amendment itself being overturned. After California became one of same-sex marriage states, it became the focus of a sustained campaign to ban the marriages. Although the proposition passed in 2008 by a narrow margin, it was later overturned as unconstitutional.

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