The Gay Marriage Debate: Where It Stands

  • July 10, 2009
  • By David Masci

In recent years, the debate over same-sex marriage has grown from an issue that occasionally arose in a few states to a nationwide controversy. Indeed, in the last five years, the debate over gay marriage has been heard in the halls of the U.S. Congress, at the White House, in dozens of state legislatures and courtrooms, and in the rhetoric of election campaigns at both the national and state levels. Moreover, the battle over whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to wed shows no signs of abating. In the last year alone, three states have banned same-sex marriage and four states have legalized the practice.

Recently, both sides in the debate have scored important victories. In April 2009, for example, Iowa's Supreme Court ruled that the state's constitution guarantees gays and lesbians the right to wed; the high court in Connecticut had issued a similar ruling in May 2008. Meanwhile, gay marriage advocates also won important legislative victories in a number of states, beginning in April 2009 when the Vermont Legislature legalized same-sex marriage. The Vermont law marked the first time gay marriage was legalized as the result of a statute rather than a court ruling. By the end of May 2009, two other state legislatures, those in Maine and New Hampshire, followed suit, bringing the total number of states that allow same-sex marriage to six. Finally, in June 2009, President Barack Obama granted family medical leave and certain other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers. (The presidential memorandum did not include health insurance coverage, which would require congressional approval.)

Opponents of gay marriage also have had some success in recent years. In November 2008, for instance, voters in California, Florida and Arizona approved ballot initiatives amending their state constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage, raising the total number of states that have passed such constitutional amendments to 29. (Arizona voters had previously rejected a constitutional ban in November 2006.) The vote in California, on a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, was particularly notable since it overturned a May 2008 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. Passage of Proposition 8 also prompted an entirely new court battle over whether the just-approved ballot initiative itself was constitutional. That battle ended in May 2009, when the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

Read the full report The Gay Marriage Debate: Where It Stands on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.