Throughout history, dating back to the ancient times, same-sex relationships have been documented either in fiction or the law. The United States’ stance on same-sex marriage stems from the United Kingdom, which outlawed homosexual behavior until 1967 and later pardoned those who were punished against it.
Due to their influence through colonialization, this stance on homosexuality spread throughout the globe and still resonates in former colonies, such as Australia, India, and, of course, the United States. Before the 20th century, the crime of homosexuality was called “sodomy” and its use can still be found in laws around the world. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote a Virginia law which said that any man who engaged in sodomy must be castrated. While this law may seem harsh in today’s terms, it was a more lenient approach as Virginia law punished sodomy by death.
Same-Sex Legality in 20th Century United States
Before 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state that was punishable by prison or hard labor. It wasn’t until 2000 did states begin to either repeal their sodomy laws or the state courts began to overturn them. In 2003, a landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas made Texas’ same-sex sodomy law illegal due to the impact it had on the implied liberty of privacy. The decision made every sodomy law invalid, so long as it applied to civilians in their private lives.
As time progressed, states also began to repeal or ban laws that regulated heterosexual relationships but were never enforced. For example, Virginia also made it so that it is illegal unmarried heterosexual couples to have pre-marital sex. Many states have similar laws, but after a certain time they were no longer enforced. Due to the advances in same-sex rights the states were forced to accept the fact that they enforced these laws only when they saw fit.
Same-Sex Rights and Legality Abroad
In Europe, same-sex marriage made strides but also encountered a few roadblocks. In 2010, a new wave of conservativism hit Europe and nations in eastern Europe, like Hungary and Russia, passed laws that banned same-sex relationships. But other places like Malta, Ireland, and the United Kingdom offered full recognition of same-sex couples and even allowed it so they can adopt children together.
In Asia, progress has been much slower and as of May 2016, same-sex activities and relationships are illegal in 23 Asian countries. But some countries, like Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, and Thailand are very open to same-sex relationships and accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
In Africa, as of 2016, same-sex relationships are legal in just 1 of the 56 nations on the continent. In fact, same-sex marriages are specifically banned in 8 of the 56 nations. Whereas same-sex activity, or sodomy, is legal in 22 out of the 56 nations. While some areas, like the Canary Islands, prohibit LGBT discrimination, other nations out-right ban or prohibit same-sex activity and do not offer any protections to LGBT individuals.
Changes for Same-Sex Relationships in the United States
In 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Windsor which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that denied federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But it still did not address the States’ recognition of same-sex marriages, which will be addressed in just two years time.
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of recognition of same-sex marriage in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. In writing the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
“Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm… [it] allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations… In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in this case demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
After years of criminalization of sodomy and same-sex relationships, the United States made history by declaring that same-sex marriage and recognition of marriage was a fundamental right that is offered and protected by the Constitution.
After the Decision
It did not take long for some states to voice their disapproval of the decision. Most famously a county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Eventually, due to her position as a government official, Ms. Davis was removed from her position and marriage licenses were distributed without her name or signature.
Since the decision, only 11 counties refused to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples, and each refusal was met with legal action by the federal government. A poll finds that, since the decision in 2015, over 123,000 same-sex marriages have taken place across the United States.
But now that same-sex marriage is legal and more common, there are new issues that surround it. The issues are already common: divorce, alimony, adoption, child support, and all the other issues that stem out of an ended marriage and relationship. While same-sex marriages are, on the whole, accepted in the United States, as with any civil rights movement there will continue to be struggles on the road ahead.
Follow these links to learn more about same-sex marriages:
- The Evolution of Same-Sex Marriage Laws and Where We are Today (PDF)
- Timeline: Same-sex marriage through the years
- The secret history of same-sex marriage
- History of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Social Movements
- 9 Need-to-Know Quotes from the Obergefell v. Hodges Opinions
- LGBT Rights
- Start Preparing for Same-Sex Divorce