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What States Allow Gay Marriage?

Updated on July 10, 2010

What States Allow Gay Marriage?

Marriage is a state right, meaning each individual state sets its own guidelines to determine who can get married and when. While all 50 states allow heterosexual marriage, most states restrict gay marriage; in fact, many states outright prohibit marriage between two people of the same gender.

Only a few states currently allow gay marriage; others offer civil unions to same-sex partners, instead. However, more states are in the process of reviewing their marriage laws and considering same-sex marriage, so the list may continue to grow in the near future.

States That Allow Gay Marriage

To date, only five states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to marry and simultaneously allow gay couples to refer to their union as a marriage:

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont

In these states, same-sex marriages and opposite-sex marriages are afforded the same exact rights and responsibilities under state law. Same-sex couples can legally separate, divorce, bequeath their estate to each other and their children and make medical decisions the same way opposite-sex couples can. There are no laws that recognize same-sex marriage any differently than opposite-sex marriage in these states.

Additionally, three states recognize gay marriage, but do not currently issue same-sex marriage licenses:

  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

This means that while these states currently allow gay marriage, it is not possible at this time to actually obtain a marriage license as a gay couple. However, these three states recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states. For example, if you and your spouse entered into a same-sex marriage in Connecticut and later move to New York, New York will recognize your marriage as legal, allowing you and your spouse to take advantage of and enjoy the same benefits you would enjoy as a married couple had you stayed in Connecticut.

States that Allow Same-Sex Civil Unions

In addition to the five states that allow gay marriages, seven states currently allow same-sex civil unions:

  • Maine
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

In these states, a civil union is similar to marriage; it allows a same-sex couple to seek legal recognition of their relationship and gives united couples some of the same rights -- such as health insurance -- that married couples received. Unlike marriage, a civil union does not give couples all of the rights that married couples enjoy, like tax breaks or joint custody of minor children.

Federal Recognition

There is no federal law that recognizes or prohibits gay marriage at the present time. Likewise, there is no law that bans gay marriage at a federal level, either. However, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act -- signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 -- which explicitly defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman (1 U.S.C. § 7). This means that, under federal law, same-sex marriage (as well as plural marriage) is not and will not be recognized until the act is abolished or amended. Further, if you and your spouse marry in a state where gay marriage is recognized and permitted, the federal government will not recognize you as a married couple. This means you and your spouse cannot file a joint federal tax return, claim Social Security benefits, or enjoy any of over 1,100 different federal benefits reserved specifically for married couples.


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    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      Great hub. This information will prove helpful when traveling with ones wife/husband. Thank you for bringing a needed bit of information to the page.

      welcome to hub pages!