Latest Development: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, thereby requiring all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Background and History: State legislatures, voters and more recently the courts have made sweeping changes over the past two decades in laws defining whether marriage is limited to relationships between a man and a woman or is extended to same-sex couples. Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 6, 2014, declining to hear cases on same-sex marriage, 31 states had either constitutional or statutory provisions that explicitly defined marriage as between a man and a woman and just 19 states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage. Now, at least 37 states and D.C. recognize same-sex marriage.
The status of same-sex marriage remains in flux. All states have some court case pending on the topic. Five of those states’ cases were pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided not to hear the cases, thereby allowing the decisions from the 4th, 7th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal to stand. That meant same-sex couples could marry in five more states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The following day, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho.
Two days later, West Virginia’s attorney general stopped his defense of that state’s ban. Colorado’s attorney general said the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision invalidates that state’s ban. In North Carolina, a federal judge ruled that state’s ban unconstitutional, applying the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. Alaska’s appeal was refused by the Supreme Court and a federal district judge ruled Arizona’s ban unconstitutional and the attorney general said he would not appeal the decision. Wyoming is the latest state where the attorney general has decided not to appeal a federal district court judge ruling the state’s ban unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2014, lifted its hold on issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Kansas. A South Carolina state Supreme Court and federal judge in Montana are the latest to rule overturning same-sex marriage bans. On Jan. 6, 2015, the state of Florida will begin allowing same-sex marriage after a district judge ruled the ban unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant the state’s attorney general a stay on the decision. On February 9, 2015 Alabama began issuing same-sex marriage licenses after a U.S. district judge ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional. The judge put the January decision on hold to allow the state to prepare. The state requested the hold be extended, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to do so. With these changes, at least 37 states and D.C. recognize same-sex marriage. In June 2015, a federal judge in Guam ruled their ban to be unconstitutional, making Guam the first territory to allow same-sex marriage.
There is also a federal appeals court ruling to uphold states’ ban on same-sex marriage. On Nov. 6, 2014, a federal appeals court judge in the 6th U.S. Circuit upheld four states’ bans on same-sex marriage. The opinion upholds bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The decision is the first by a federal appeals court to uphold the bans. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the four cases. The court is expected to hear arguments in April and make a decision in June on whether it is constitutional for states to prohibit same-sex marriage and whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state.