Same Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage is the legal union between two people of the same gender. Throughout history, same sex unions have taken place around the world, but laws recognizing such marriages did not start occurring until more modern times. As of 2015, only 17 countries around the globe have laws allowing same sex couples to become legally married. Support in some countries that do not allow same sex marriage is rising, however, which leads many to believe that acceptance will continue to grow. To explore this concept, consider the following same sex marriage definition.

Definition of Same Sex Marriage


  1. The legal union between two people of the same sex.
  2. The state or condition of being married to another person of the same gender.

Same Sex Marriage Debate

The same sex marriage debate has inundated the United States government, and governments around the world, for many years. Supporters of same sex marriage argue that love should be sufficient grounds for marriage, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the couple. Those on the opposite side of the same sex marriage debate often cite religious beliefs, or concerns about procreation and child rearing, to support their arguments.

The issue of same sex marriage may seem cut and dry as an individual decision, but when it comes to the legal issue, the argument over same sex marriage is much more complicated. Supporters of such marriages strongly believe that the right to marry is a civil right, and it should not come with attached restrictions based on gender. Though many states are now recognizing same sex marriages, it is likely that the same sex marriage debate will continue for some time.

Same Sex Marriage Pros and Cons

For many same sex couples in the United States, the dream of being able to marry is becoming a reality. Same sex couples deciding whether to get married consider a number of pros and cons that may have long term effects. These include:

  • Sharing rights and responsibilities when it comes to raising and supporting children of the relationship.
    • The ability of one parent to retain legal custody of the children if the other parent dies.
  • Merging of property and assets.
  • The ability of one spouse to inherit the couple’s property should the other spouse die, in addition to having a right to certain tax benefits, and social security benefits.
  • The ability of a spouse to receive employer benefits available to heterosexual married couples.

Some of the cons of a same sex marriage are:

  • Each spouse may become responsible for the other person’s debts.
  • In the event of a divorce, one spouse may be entitled to alimony.
  • Upon divorce, the issue of property distribution may become complicated which can result in expensive civil lawsuits.
  • When the relationship fails, a legal dissolution is required which can become costly and cause conflict.

States with Same Sex Marriage

As of 2015, a total of 37 U.S. states allow same sex couples to legally marry. These states include:

Alabama Hawaii Massachusetts Oklahoma Washington
Alaska Idaho Minnesota Oregon West Virginia
Arizona Indiana Montana Pennsylvania Wisconsin
California Illinois North Carolina Rhode Island Wyoming
Colorado Indiana New Jersey South Carolina Washington, D.C.
Connecticut Kansas New Mexico Utah
Delaware Maine Nevada Virginia
Florida Maryland New York Vermont

In some states, including Arkansas, South Dakota, and Kentucky, the state government has not yet legalized same sex marriage, but their bans against gay marriage have been ruled unconstitutional.

Same Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court

It is no secret that the Supreme Court has had its fair share of cases concerning same sex marriages, some of which have been major victories for same sex couples across the country.

Good ridge v Department of Public Health

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court became the first to rule that the state’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. Once this decision in the case of Good ridge v Department of Public Health was handed down, the state of Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. This landmark ruling by a state supreme court was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2001 by a group called the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (“GLAD”) on behalf of seven same sex couples, each of which were established, long term relationships. Four of these couples were raising a total of five children.

The plaintiffs argued that it was unconstitutional to deny same sex couples the right to marry and enjoy marital benefits. In 2002, a Suffolk County judge ruled against the plaintiffs, stating that, because the central purpose of marriage is for procreation, it is rational for the legislature to limit the right to marry to opposite sex couples. The court went on to say, “… because same-sex couples are unable to procreate on their own and therefore must rely on inherently more cumbersome means of having children, it is also rational to assume that same-sex couples are less likely to have children or, at least, to have as many children as opposite-sex couples.” The decision was appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003, which ruled in a 4 to 3 decision, that banning marriage to any couple, regardless of sex, is in violation of the state’s constitution.

Windsor v United States

The case of Windsor v United States struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which had been signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton. The law specifically defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, preventing the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages. As a result, DOMA deprived same sex couples the basic rights, responsibilities, and protections that come with marriage.

This lawsuit against the U.S. government was filed in 2010, by Edie Windsor, who had been in a 40-year relationship with her partner, Thea Spyer, and married in Canada in 2007. When Thea died, she left all of the assets in entire estate to Edie Windsor, who sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. The exemption was denied, as the IRS did not recognize the women as a married couple. Edie was compelled to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes.

On June 6, 2012, a district court ruled in Windsor’s favor, citing that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and agreed with the lower court’s decision. While the Court did not fully overturn DOMA, the court’s ruling on this issue was a major landmark for supporters of same sex marriages.

Hollingsworth v Perry

The court’s ruling on Hollingsworth v Perry was also a victory for those believing in same sex marriages. This case dates back to 2009 when the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court to challenge California’s Proposition 8, which denied same sex couples the right to marry. In 2010, a judge ruled Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, stating it discriminated against same sex couples. Proponents of the proposition appealed the decision and, in 2012, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and struck down the proposition, restoring the freedom to marry to same sex couples.

Same Sex Marriage Statistics

In the last few years, proponents of same sex marriages have seen many victories, as more and more states legalize same sex couples’ right to marry. A glimpse into same sex marriage statistics shows that the issue affects a large number of people on a daily basis:

  • The age group with the most supporters of same sex marriage is 18 to 29 years old.
  • The over 65 age group has the lowest percentage of supporters.
  • The Eastern portion of the United States has the largest number of supporters, while the Midwest has the lowest.
  • The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same sex marriage, having done so in 2001 – three years before the first state in the U.S. legalized it.
  • In 1996, roughly 27 percent of Americans thought same sex marriages should be legal. That percentage almost doubled by 2012. Currently, over 55 percent of Americans support same sex marriage rights, with 8 out of 10 young adults favoring gay marriage rights.
  • Over three percent of people identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual
  • According to the 2010 United States Census Bureau, there are more than 600,000 same sex couple households in the U.S.

Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not deny federal benefits of marriage to same sex couples, if the couple was married in a state that allowed the marriage. Some states do not fully recognize same sex marriage, but they do offer civil unions or domestic partnerships, so that the same sex couples can enjoy some of the same rights and benefits of marriage.

Civil Union

A civil union provides same sex couples with legal recognition of their relationship. Some of the benefits of a civil union include entitlement to a partner’s insurance benefits, joint property ownership, and increased ability to adopt a child.

Domestic Partnership

A domestic partnership is similar to a civil union, in that it provides same sex couples with certain rights when they live together, but do not marry. This is only legal in a few states, including California and Oregon.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appeal – A request to a higher courts asking for them asking for a reversal of a decision made by a lower court.
  • Asset – Any valuable thing or property owned by a person or entity, regarded as being of value.
  • Civil LawsuitA lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Custody – The protective care of something, or someone.
  • Divorce – The legal termination of a marriage.


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