when was gay marriage legalized in the us

When Was Gay Marriage Legalized in the US? – Exploring History

Marriage is one of the oldest ceremonies of humankind. The first recorded wedding ceremonies date back to 2000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia. The original purpose of marriage had little to do with romance and butterflies. It was a way for a man to legally bind a woman so he could be sure of paternity. 

With time, the institution of marriage changed and evolved. Throughout history and mainly during the Renaissance in Europe, marriage became less of an economic and parenting agreement. Instead, it was more of a gesture of the grand idea of love

In recent history, marriage changed its definition as the union of a man and a woman to include different genders and sexual orientations. 

Read on as we journey through history and find answers to the question, “when was gay marriage legalized in the US?”

Ancient History

The idea of marriage was prevalent in ancient Greece. The father would give a daughter to her new spouse, saying, “I pledge my daughter to produce legitimate offspring.” In those days, marriage was still more of a social and less of a legal construct – no specific ceremony was required. 

However, there were marriage ceremonies related to the cult of Hera, a goddess of marriage, family, and childbirth. Ancient Greeks married in the winter in the month of Gamelion. This is the wedding month in honor of the Goddess, and offerings are made to her throughout the month. 

On the day of the gamos or the wedding, the Goddess would be called upon for her blessing. Approval and understanding were expected from the Goddess, as she was married to her brother Zeus. 

So, when was marriage legalized? In ancient Rome, the goddess Juno took Hera’s role as a goddess of marriage. However, no religious approval was needed. There were two types of weddings in ancient Romeconventio in manum and marriage sine manu. The two mainly differed in the authority under which a woman remains. 

In ancient Rome, marriage became legal. A traditional marriage had a specific form that included two witnesses and ceremonial words needed for a wedding to be legal. 


In the first centuries of early Christianity, marriage was a private matter, and church or ceremony was not required. However, after the letters of the bishop and saint Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp of Smyrna in 2 century AD, approval of the bishop for Christian marriage was needed, as it remains today. 

Definition of Marriage Today

wedding ceremony

As an institution so ancient and widespread, it is almost impossible for anthropologists to give one singular definition of marriage. On the contrary, several different definitions of this civil union were proposed to explain the essence of wedlock. 

The applicable definition for each particular marriage would be the definition by the law under which the marriage took place. In the English common law tradition, marriage was viewed as a civil union between opposite sexes. It is a contract based upon a voluntary private agreement by a man and a woman to become husband and wife. 

In the United States today, marriage is the legal union of a couple as spouses, which can include the marriage of the same sexes. Under United States law, marriage consists of 3 elements:

  1. the parties’ legal ability to marry each other
  2. mutual consent of the parties
  3. marriage contract

When Was Gay Marriage Legalized in the US?

gay marraiage applauded

The question remains, “When was gay marriage legalized in the US?” The history of same-sex marriage in the US dates back to the 1970s. It began with the first lawsuits by same-sex couples seeking legal recognition of their marriage right. 

The matter became increasingly pressing during the 1990s when the Hawaii Supreme Court found that the state’s policy might be unconstitutional. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first State to legalize gay marriage, and in the next 20 years, all 49 States followed. 

Later in 2015, the Supreme Court took down all state same-sex marriage bans in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges. Also, the court ordered all 50 individual states to recognize gay marriage licenses. 

Current Marriage Act on Same-Sex Marriage 

Even though the case law made a precedent in 2014 for same-sex couples to marry, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark federal law passed by the Senate and signed by president Joe Biden in December 2022. The act ensures that interracial and same-sex marriages are protected under the law. However, the act does not require every state to solemnize a gay wedding. Instead, it requires all states to recognize a gay marriage performed in other states. This recognition of same-sex marriage licenses is vital in protecting other rights in areas like immigration law and tax law. 

Support of Same-Sex Marriage

same sex marriage USA

In the United States, professional and human rights organizations support same-sex couples in the right to same-sex marriage. Some of the organizations are:  

Also, prominent figures in the civil rights movement supported the right of gay couples and other same-sex couples to marry Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a leading African-American civil rights organization, has supported marriage equality. 

Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

Arguments against gay marriage are based on the notion that homosexuality is unnatural and that legalizing such marriages will promote homosexuality in society. Another argument that opposes same-sex unions is that marriage serves the purpose of procreation and bringing up offspring. 

Some prominent same-sex opponents are religious groups like the Catholic Church and Baptist Convention. The majority opinion still differs from state to state. 


The question, “when was gay marriage legalized by the US?” can be simply answered in one word. However, the topic still calls for long discussions and remains a pressing issue for same-sex couples. 

Even though the institution of marriage is more than 4000 years old, the legalization of same-sex unions is only a few decades old. It was only in 2014 that all 50 States in the US recognized gay marriage under the rulings of the Supreme Court and the Respect for Marriage Act passed by the Senate. With supporters and opponents on both sides, the issue of gay marriage remains open for debate.