Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A look at key gay-marriage laws in America - Yahoo! News

A look at key gay-marriage laws in America - Yahoo! News:

It's been 17 years since Hawaii's Supreme Court first ruled that summarily restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of that state's constitution. Yet, to this day, only five states and the District of Columbia permit gay couples to marry. It took another 11 years after the Hawaii decision before any state allowed same-sex couples to tie the knot.

The Hawaii court's revolutionary decision prompted gay-marriage opponents to obtain a legislative amendment to the state constitution to eliminate the constitutional basis for the court's conclusion. Thus, the Hawaii court's ruling did not actually lead to same-sex marriages. While several states and localities fashioned domestic partnerships and civil unions in the interim, it wasn't until 2004 that any of the U.S. states began marrying gay couples. The first state to do so was Massachusetts, ironically a commonwealth long-identified with socially conservative blue laws that are holdovers from colonial days.

In that same year, Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, briefly opened the door to same-sex marriages, issuing licenses to 4,000 gay couples despite language in the California Code specifying that marriage involves a man and a woman. Litigation ensued, and the state Supreme Court voided the marriages. Twice thereafter, the legislature voted to authorize same-sex marriage, but the governor vetoed both bills.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned the gay-marriage prohibition, but voters by referendum amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage once again.

In 2010, federal judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that barred gay marriage in California, violated constitutional due process and equal protection clauses. Prop. 8 supporters are appealing.

The states that currently permit same-sex couples to marry are Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa and the District of Columbia.

Massachusetts also took the lead in allowing out-of-state same-sex couples to marry there when in 2009 it repealed a 1913 residency requirement for marriage. That same year, Vermont's legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto of a bill authorizing gay marriage. Connecticut likewise followed the legislative route to authorizing same-sex couples to marry. It passed a law in 2008, phasing out civil unions, which had been allowed since 2005. By year's end, all civil unions in Connecticut will have been converted to marriages.

New Hampshire followed a similar path to its New England neighbors, passing a law specifically authorizing same-sex marriage effective January 2010.

In Iowa, however, same-sex couples acquired the right to marry through litigation. The Iowa legislature passed a Defense of Marriage statute, a common type of law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, that was challenged in court. The Iowa Supreme Court struck the law as unconstitutional last year, thus affirming the legality of gay marriage.

The District of Columbia legalized gay marriage in December 2009, effective March 2010.

States that do not recognize same-sex marriage but authorize domestic partnerships include California, Oregon, New Jersey Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Maine and Wisconsin. New Jersey's domestic partnership law provides the same benefits as marriage to couples availing themselves of it, whereas the other states with domestic partnership laws provide similar but not as extensive benefits as those afforded to married couples.

Three states without gay marriage laws of their own explicitly recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. These states are Rhode Island, New York and Maryland.

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