While many of us recall the human rights victory of June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, it’s also important to remember the long road to marriage equality in the United States—and worldwide.
As we looked back at iconic moments in history, to stunning celebrity real weddings and beyond, the editors at BAZAAR Bride also contended with how little imagery of same-sex weddings existed prior to the mid-’90s. With that in mind, we’re taking a look back (and forward) on the history of same-sex weddings—in photos—and toasting all the victories before and after that joyous day in 2015, in honor of Pride Month, the anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage, and in celebration of love and equality.
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A year after the Stonewall riots, which ushered in a wave of gay rights activism, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell (pictured here) were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in the United States. The two applied in Minneapolis, were turned down in Hennepin County, and then continued to fight their case to the Supreme Court, who dismissed the case “for want of a substantial federal question.”
That ruling blocked federal courts from ruling on on same-sex marriage for decades to come, leaving the decision to legalize same-sex unions to the states.In 1971, the couple received a license to wed in another country and were finally able to exchange vows. Baker and McConnell are still happily married, according to an interview conducted by the New York Times in 2015, when gay marriage was legalized across the nation.
In 1973, Maryland passed a statute banning same-sex marriage. Virginia did the same in 1975, followed by California, Florida, and Wyoming in 1977.
According to Harvard Magazine, legal recognition of gay marriage didn’t pick up until the late ’80s, given that the focus of gay activism had been more about the decriminalization of gay sex. The movement turned its focus to marriage in response to the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, with more and more couples seeking to publicly and officially declare and celebrate their love and commitment to one another.
Hawaii’s Supreme Court made strides in 1993, ruling that denying marriage to same-sex couples was in violation of their state Constitution, which included an Equal Protection Clause.
In the early ’90s, group ceremonies were performed for couples during Gay Rights Marches. Here, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, now the senior curatorial director at Gibney, a performing arts and social justice organization, cries during a group ceremony on Constitution Avenue, after exchanging vows with her partner, Deborah Feller.
Pedro Zamora (right) was the first openly-gay, HIV-positive man to appear on television—on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. The show captured a commitment ceremony between Zamora and his partner, Sean Sasser, marking the first time a same-sex ceremony of any kind had appeared on national television. Zamora passed away hours after the finale of the season aired in 1994 and is remembered as a key player in shifting how members of the LGBTQ+ community living with HIV and AIDS were perceived nationwide.
The first same sex wedding on scripted television appeared on Friends.
In Season 1, Ross’ wife, Carol, leaves him for Susan, whom she weds in Season 2, in an episode unmistakably titled “The One with the Lesbian Wedding.”
That same year, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, denying federal benefits to same-sex couples. In Hawaii, a judge upholds the legality of same sex marriage, per the state’s ruling in 1993. In 1998, a vote in the state passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage, overturning the 1993 and 1996 rulings.
The state of California passed a domestic partnership statute in 1999—and the state of Vermont soon followed, allowing for civil unions to be recognized in the state. Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, prompting 11 other states to pass amendments to ban same-sex marriage in 2004.
In 2005, civil partnerships were legalized in England. Sir Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, were one of the first couples in the country to have a civil ceremony.
As California legislators continued attempts at marriage equality, they were met with resistance by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger both in 2005 and 2007.
One of (if not) the first same-sex weddings was featured on HBO’s Six Feet Under, in the series finale of the show. The show was also one of the first to showcase a gay male lead, but the character (played by Michael C. Hall) doesn’t get his happy ending until a dream sequence at the end of the show, which is intended to flash forward into the future.
While almost all same-sex weddings on television until this point were small civil unions, commitment ceremonies, and the like, David’s wedding to Keith (played by Mathew St. Patrick) on Six Feet Under was iconic for many reasons—from it’s formality to the two being married by a religious officiant.
In May 2008, California’s Supreme Court disallows a state law banning same-sex marriage, making gay marriage legal in California.
Here, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon are married by the then-mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, at a ceremony at City Hall in June 2008. The couple were one of the first same-sex couples to ever be married in the state.
On August 16, 2008 Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi wed at their home in Los Angeles.
In May 2008, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters became the first primetime, scripted show on a broadcast network to picture a same-sex wedding between two lead characters. Kevin and Scotty, played by Matthew Rhys and Luke MacFarlane, were married in the show’s season finale.
That same year, Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage.
Here, Senator Barbara Boxer speaks to crowds during a “No on Prop 8” rally in October 2008 in Oakland, California. The senator voiced her support for defeating Prop 8, which would change the California state constitution to legally recognize only marriages between men and women.
Only six months after marriage equality became law in the state via a decision from the Supreme Court, voters in California approved Proposition 8 at the polls, which banned same-sex couples from marrying.
Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Washington D.C. all legalized same-sex marriage in 2009. And in 2010, Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts rules that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton, was unconstitutional.
In 2010, Proposition 8 was also declared unconstitutional in federal court. That decision was upheld in 2012 by a federal appeals court.
In February 2011, the Obama Administration announced that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. That June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalized same-sex marriage in New York. Here, Maria Vargas and Maira Garcia wait on line to be married at the Brooklyn County Clerk’s office on July 24, 2011, the first day couples were legally allowed to marry in the state.
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy featured the first wedding between two women in reoccurring roles on a scripted, primetime series on a broadcast network when doctors Callie and Arizona, played by Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw, wed on the show.
Here, Phyllis Siegel and Connie Kopelov hold up their marriage certificate on July 24, 2011 in New York City.
In May 2012, President Obama became the first sitting president to declare his support for same-sex marriage. Here, President Obama hosts a reception in honor of Pride Month in the East Room of the White House on June 15, 2012.
That same year, Washington state governor Christine Gregiore signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, but her opponents delayed the law being implemented until a referendum was passed in November of that year, USA Today reports. In a similar battle, New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill approved by legislators to allow same-sex marriage.
While many states were making strides towards legalizing same-sex marriage, a judge in Nevada uphold’s a ban on gay marriage in the state.
In Johannesburg, South Africa Tshepo Modisane and Thobajobe Sithole made history as the first same-sex couple to wed in a traditional African ceremony. The couple were married on April 6th at Siva Sungum Hall in Kwadukuza, South Africa.
NBC’s The New Normal, created by Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, was the first sitcom on a broadcast network to be completely based on the storyline of a same-sex couple. The plot follows David and Bryan, played by Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells, as they invite their surrogate to move in with them—along with her 9 year-old daughter. In the series finale, “The Big Day,” the two wed after the birth of their child.
Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Mexico signed same-sex marriage into law in 2013, and Gov. Chris Christie finally dropped his appeal in New Jersey, legalizing gay marriage in the state.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, and dismissed the challenge to Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage legal in California (again).
Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson wed Justin Mikita in New York City. The wedding, which ran in Martha Stewart Weddings, was one of the first same-sex real weddings to ever be published in a national wedding publication.
The season finale of ABC’s The Fosters was the first show to feature a same-sex wedding since the overturning of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. On the episode, appropriately named “I do,” moms Stef and Lena tied the knot. According to TV Guide, who interviewed the show’s executive producers, the episode was written and planned long before the historic decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA were made by the Supreme Court.
“We knew the Supreme Court would likely make its decision before we shot [the episode],” Executive Producer Peter Paige told TV Guide in 2013. “If they had ruled the other way we would have still gone ahead—only with an f–k you wedding! But because the Court did rule the way it did, it was an even more resonant celebration.”
Modern Family, which at the time was TV’s most awarded and second-most nominated show in history, aired a season finale that fans had been long-awaiting—Mitch and Cam’s wedding. One year before marriage equality was legalized across the country, 10.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the episode.
District judges in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Idaho, and South Dakota all strike down bans on same-sex marriage in their respective states, but those rulings (and therefore marriages) are placed on hold pending state appeals. In October, the Supreme Court denied appeals for six of these states, paving the way for the other appeals to be tossed.
In Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, bans on same-sex marriage were struck down and not appealed, legalizing marriage in those states for the LGBTQ+ community.
In January of 2015, the Supreme Court agrees to hear six cases from only the states where same-sex marriage was upheld: Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Glee’s Kurt and Blaine, played by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss, were the first teen same-sex couple to be featured on primetime television. The two finally wed on the musical series, created by Ryan Murphy, in a double wedding.
That double wedding Kurt and Blaine celebrated to tied the knot? It was with dear friends Brittany and Santana, played by Heather Morris and Naya Rivera.
On April 18, 2015, the Supreme Court hears arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a group of six cases challenging bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States.
Kim Davis, a former county clerk in Kentucky, garners national attention when she refused to issue a marriage license to Robbie Blankenship and Jesse Cruz on the grounds of religious objection. Davis was sued by the couples she denied rightful marriage licenses to, and in 2017 a court ruled that the state of Kentucky would be responsible for the legal fees of the plaintiffs, a total of $224,000 according to USA Today.
While Will & Grace was an undeniable force in portraying gay lead characters on primetime TV from 1998-2006, the show never featured a same-sex wedding until its reboot in 2019, when Jack wed his partner Estefan.
FOX’s Empire, created by Lee Daniels, made history when it aired television’s first Black same-sex wedding. In the episode, Jussie Smollett’s character, Jamal, wed Kai, played by Toby Onwumere.
In May of 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage. Here, Shane Lin and Marc Yuan kiss outside the Household Registration Office after their nuptials. Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, joining the first Central American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Costa Rica.
To date, according to Business Insider, 29 countries around the world have ruled to legalize same-sex marriage.
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