In 2004, the state of Massachusetts became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriages. More and more eventually legalised until 37 out of the 50 American states allowed same-sex marriage. Go progress!
America is divided into different states – and each state has its own state government. The USA also has a federal government, which is the national government for the whole of the United States.
Power is shared between the two – which is why different states have different laws.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in America. There are nine judges in the Supreme Court, and each one will have been nominated by the President, and then confirmed by the Senate. They rule on the biggest decisions that affect laws over all of the country.
Until 2013, there was a federal law: The Defence of Marriage Act. This allowed states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages that had been granted in other states as legal. In other words, even though federal law should technically be obeyed by every single state, the Defence of Marriage Act meant that some states could abide and others not. Talk about big sister vs little sister syndrome.
BUT THEN…The Supreme Court went “HELL NO!”, and destroyed the Defence of the Marriage Act.
Removing the act was a big win for the gay rights movement, but it has not meant that other states automatically have to recognise same-sex marriage….UNTIL NOW.
Check out Vox.com’s awesome video showing how same-sex marriage has been legalised across states over time:
Not all states were happy with the law being removed. People dissatisfied with the decision of the Courts lodged an appeal with the Federal Appeals Court (so many courts, so little time). The Appeals Court couldn’t agree on a decision so the Supreme Court had to sort it out once and for all.
Out of the Nine justices of the Supreme Court, Five voted in favour of gay marriage. This ruling strikes down same-sex marriage bans across the whole of the USA. It also means states have to accept sex-sex marriages performed in other states.
All eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy: he was the swing vote who could have gone either way (no pun intended). Kennedy and four other judges rejected claims that marriage was just for pro-creation and for creating a family.
They ruled that prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory and against the United States Constitution.
The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says that states must provide equal protection under all laws to all groups of people. Therefore, you can’t ban same-sex marriages as that would mean they have fewer rights than heterosexuals.
This argument was successfully used in 1967 to rule that states were NOT allowed to ban inter-racial couples from marrying. It was part of the case in 2013 that removed the Defence of the Marriage Act.