Thirteen states plus Washington DC have made gay marriage fully legal, while 25 give no legal recognition to gay relationships. For the rest, it's complicated.
WASHINGTON — On June 26, the Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings for gay rights, including a decision that adds California back to the roster of states where same-sex marriages are fully legal. With the Golden State's addition, nearly one-third of the U.S. population now lives in states where gay marriages are legal.
In May, Minnesota legalized gay marriage just weeks after Rhode Island and Delaware passed their own measures. All three laws take effect this summer.
Public opinion has gradually shifted in favor of gay marriage. Notably, most national polls now show that more than 50 percent of Americans say gay couples should be legally allowed to marry. The Supreme Court has overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that legal gay marriages will be treated the same as other marriages by the federal government. (Gay couples will be able to file joint federal tax returns, for example.)
But the issue remains with the states, and supporters of gay marriage face a tough road ahead. Many of the states where gay marriage has broad support have passed laws. A few more have laws in the pipeline, ongoing legal battles, or no clear position on the issue. But 36 states ban gay marriage outright, and of those, 31 have passed constitutional amendments that make such marriages illegal.
Here's a breakdown of where the issue stands in every U.S. state:
GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL
Massachusetts — Massachusetts became the first state to fully legalize gay marriage in May of 2004, seven months after the state's supreme court ruled that barring same-sex marriages was a violation of the state's constitution.
Washington, D.C. — The District of Columbia isn't a state, although it functions in much the same way, with additional Congressional oversight. The city council passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in December, 2009 and the District started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March of 2010 after opponents in Congress failed to block the law.
CIVIL UNIONS AND DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS
Civil unions and domestic partnerships are relationships similar to marriage that confer legal status and rights at the state level, but may not be recognized by other states or the federal government. (Full gay marriages also face hurdles to being recognized by other states and the federal government, but have a stronger legal footing.)
Hawaii — See "special cases," below.
Illinois — The state already allows civil unions and is in the midst of a fight to fully legalize gay marriage. The state Senate passed a bill allowing gay marriage and the measure has the support of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. But it faces a close vote in the state's House as the 2013 legislative session draws to a close.
Nevada — Nevada has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, but in May the state Senate voted to repeal that amendment and replace it with one allowing gay marriages, an effort that would have to be approved by voters. Nevada would be the first state to repeal an amendment banning gay marriage, and many citizens and businesses support the effort, in part because of the boost it would provide to the state's tourism industry.
New Jersey — A law allowing gay marriages passed both houses of New Jersey's legislature in 2012, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed. Christie has said that he would allow voters to decide if the legislature puts the issue on the ballot, where polling indicates a pro-gay marriage amendment would likely pass.
Wisconsin — See "special cases," below.
GAY MARRIAGE BANNED BY STATE LAW
GAY MARRIAGE BANNED BY STATE CONSTITUTION
Many of the states that have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage also have specific state laws against them. Those laws are redundant when there is a constitutional ban, but often predate the constitutional amendments. On the other hand, several states that allow civil unions (listed above) have constitutional bans on gay marriage. The 25 states listed below do not allow gay marriages or civil unions of any sort.
A few states fall into more than one of the categories above.
California — The most populous U.S. state had one of the most contentious gay marriage debates. Gay marriage was legal for five months in 2008 before voters passed a constitutional amendment, better known as Proposition 8, banning them. After a years-long legal battle, the Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling in the case, saying that supporters of Prop 8 did not have "standing" to defend it before the court when the state of California refused to do so. As a result, a lower court ruling was upheld, making gay marriage legal again. County clerks were expected to begin issuing marriage licenses again shortly after the June 26 ruling.
Hawaii — Hawaii kicked off the contemporary debate on gay marriage back in 1993, when the state supreme court "ruled that laws denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated state constitutional equal protection rights unless the state could show a 'compelling reason' for such discrimination," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But opening the door to gay marriages produced a backlash, both in Hawaii and other states. Many states passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and the federal government, under President Bill Clinton, passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to legally wed gay couples. In 1998, Hawaii voters amended the state constitution to leave gay marriage in the hands of the state legislature. The state allows civil unions, but has not taken further action on gay marriage.
New Mexico — New Mexico's rule is that it doesn't really have a rule. It does not ban gay marriage by law or by constitutional amendment, and it explicitly recognizes gay marriages performed in other states. Without a clear law, some local officials have allowed gay marriages to take place, although most have denied them.
Wisconsin — Wisconsin allows gay couples to register as domestic partners, conferring some legal benefits such as hospital visitation rights. But its domestic partnership law is one of the most limited in the country. Gay marriage has been banned by constitutional amendment since 2006, and experts say the state is unlikely to revisit the issue soon, despite a push by gay marriage advocates after the approval of gay marriage in neighboring Minnesota.
Join MSN News on social