America's First Gay Marriage Was Just 12 Years Ago

by Lauren Holter

Exactly 12 years ago, gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, and the very first same-sex weddings were recognized in the U.S. Massachusetts wasn't racing to legalize gay marriage though — the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2003 and it automatically became law when the legislature didn't take action in the 180 days given by the court. The nation has come a long way since 2004, but it certainly wasn't a smooth path to equality. A brief history of the 12-year fight for same-sex marriage shows the slow trajectory of change that isn't completely over yet.

California was the next state to allow same-sex weddings when the state Supreme Court struck down a ban against the unions in 2008, after state legislators passed bills legalizing it in 2005 and 2007, both of which were vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, the Golden State's story didn't end there — voters passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, later that year.

The bill wasn't deemed unconstitutional by a federal district court until 2010, and the decision was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2012. The battle went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013, when it was decided once and for all that the ban was illegal, finally giving Californian gay couples the right to wed. Though the case prohibited bans on same-sex marriage, it was still unclear whether gay marriage was a constitutional right.


Meanwhile, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, and Washington couples gained the right to marry, and 25 other states legalized marriage for all sexual orientations by the end of 2014. Only five of those 25 states willingly passed bills legalized it though, as the rest had same-sex marriage thrust upon them when state courts struck down bans on the act.

At the same time, many states were actively banning same-sex marriage, which is obviously more aggressive than just not allowing it. In early 2015, 13 of the 15 states that still didn't allow gay and lesbian weddings had official bans in effect, some of which were already being legally challenged. Florida legalized gay marriage just before the Supreme Court definitively ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right in June 2015, forcing the remaining 14 states to allow it.

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As with any big step toward equality, there was major backlash to the nationwide ruling last summer, with homophobic characters like Kim Davis quickly emerging (Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, went to jail after refusing to comply with a federal order to issue same-sex marriage licenses in her county). Even Republican presidential candidates in the current election denounced the ruling, vowing to challenge it and restore Americans' religious freedoms if elected.

Although not everyone is thrilled about legal same-sex marriage, it's not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian couples waited long enough for the right, as evident by the tumultuous 12-year struggle since 2004.