Gay marriage in the US: six ways states differ on the issue

The early February ruling by a federal appeals court in California—that Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional—reveals that gay marriage in the US is more than just a black and white issue. Officially, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, but some individual states do. And plenty more have laws or constitutional amendments that offer limited rights to same-sex couples. Take a look at where states currently stand on gay marriage in the US.

1. Issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
In this Aug. 2010 file photo, Sheree Red Bornand, right, hugs Aidan Dunn after hearing the decision in the United States District Court proceedings challenging Proposition 8 outside of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. A federal appeals court plans ruled Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 that California's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in these states carry identical benefits and rights of heterosexual married couples:

Maryland (2012)*
Washington (2012)*
New York (2011)
New Hampshire (2010)
District of Columbia (2010)
Iowa (2009)
Vermont (2009)
Connecticut (2008)
Massachusetts (2004)

*Legislation passed in Washington and Maryland in February 2012 will allow same-sex marriages, but those laws have not yet taken effect. 

In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that prohibiting same-sex civil marriages violates the state constitution. The state Senate subsequently asked the court to issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of establishing civil unions as an equivalent institution to marriage. The court in February 2004 ruled that defining opposite-sex and same-sex marriages as two separate types of unions would contradict the government's goal to encourage "stable adult relationships for the good of the individual and the community, especially its children." 

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