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The status of same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Updated: 2004-02-26 08:53

Currently, only one man and one woman can be joined in matrimony and have their marriages recognized by the state, except for a few same-sex couples in Massachusetts who successfully won a court battle for the right to marry. Same-sex couples can marry in San Francisco since 2004-FEB-12, because of an action by their mayor. However, the state of California refuses to register the marriages.

Same-sex couples in Scandoval County in north-west New Mexico have been able to obtain marriage licenses since 2004-FEB-20. However, it is expected that the state will ignore them. As of 2003-NOV, 37 states have enacted "Defense of Marriage Acts" (DOMAs) that ban same-sex marriage. Other states have similar legislation pending.

The status of same-sex marriage across the U.S. as of 2003-NOV-19 is shown below:

During 2000-MAR, 61% of California voters supported Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being restricted to between one man and one woman. But Proposition 22 and many of the DOMA laws only control the institution of marriage. They do not prevent a legislature from creating a new set of laws which cover a different type of relationship -- typically called civil unions or domestic partnerships -- for same-sex couples. A state would then recognize committed relationships among its citizens in two ways:

It would retain the existing system of marriage for heterosexual couples -- for one man and one woman -- intact. Heterosexual couples who plan to marry in the future would find that nothing is changed; the regulations, privileges, obligations, benefits etc would be the same as always. Nothing would change for existing heterosexual couples who were married in the past. States typically grant about 400 rights and privileges to each married couple. The federal government separately contributes an additional 1,000 benefits to them.

A state legislature could then create a similar system, usually called civil unions, for same-sex couples -- i.e. for two men or for two women. These would grant some or all of the approximately 400 state benefits that have been previously granted only to married couples. But over 1,000 federal rights and privileges that married couples receive automatically would be withheld from "civil unionized" couples because of the federal DOMA law. It prohibits the federal government from recognizing civil unions. The constitutionality of that law is in doubt.

The legislators of the state of Vermont set up such a civil union system which went into effect in mid-2000. On 2003-SEP-19, bill AB 205 was signed into law in State of California to set up a system of domestic partnership which is very similar to the civil unions in Vermont. It comes into effect at the beginning of 2005. A number of other states have registration procedures for same-sex couples which grant them limited benefits.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled on SSM on 2003-NOV-18 that the state cannot refuse to marry any of the seven gay and lesbian couples that petitioned the court. This decision is generally being interpreted as allowing all same-sex couples to marry, as of 2004-MAY

The graphic may be in error; we can find no reference to a registry for same-sex couples in Alaska on the Internet.

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