Support the news

Timeline: Gay Marriage In Law, Pop Culture And The Courts00:00

Mike McConnell (left) and Jack Baker --€” the couple in the <em>Baker v. Nelson</em> case — attempt to get a marriage license in Minneapolis in May 1970. The AP <a href="">reported in December 2012</a> that the two are still together. (R. Bertraine Heine/Minnesota Historical Society/AP)
Mike McConnell (left) and Jack Baker --€” the couple in the Baker v. Nelson case — attempt to get a marriage license in Minneapolis in May 1970. The AP reported in December 2012 that the two are still together. (R. Bertraine Heine/Minnesota Historical Society/AP)

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on two cases dealing with gay marriage, here's a look at how the debate has touched American life over the past four decades:


In Baker v. Nelson, the U.S. Supreme Court dismisses a challenge of a ruling from Minnesota that gay couples have no constitutional right to marry, saying the appeal fails to raise a "substantial federal question."


Maryland becomes the first state to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

PBS runs An American Family, an early reality show that follows the life of the Loud family, including openly gay Lance Loud.

Doris Dennis, a volunteer handing out literature for the Save Our Children group headed by Anita Bryant, gets into a debate with Alan Rockway, a volunteer handing out literature for a gay rights group, at a shopping center in Miami in 1977. (Bill Hudson/AP)


Gay activist Harvey Milk is elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (and assassinated a year later).

Anita Bryant launches a campaign against expanding gay rights, called Save Our Children, with the slogan "Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit."


What will be known as the AIDS crisis begins, becoming a focus for many gay activists.


Wisconsin becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. More than 20 states eventually follow suit.


In Bowers v. Hardwick, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Constitution does not protect the right of gay adults to engage in consensual sodomy in private.


TV's The Golden Girls take on gay marriage in an episode, as Blanche's brother plans to marry his boyfriend.


The Hawaii Supreme Court rules a ban on gay marriage may violate its constitution, but is stripped of jurisdiction over the matter by a constitutional amendment five years later.

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy takes effect.

Tom Hanks portrays a gay man with AIDS in Philadelphia — and later wins an Oscar.


Pedro Zamora, a cast member on MTV's The Real World: San Francisco, and his boyfriend exchange rings in a ceremony shown on air. Zamora dies of AIDS shortly after the series ends.

Two male characters who run a bed-and-breakfast get married on CBS' Northern Exposure.

Wilson Cruz portrays a gay teenager on ABC's My So-Called Life.


Utah passes a law prohibiting same-sex marriage. More than 30 other states will follow with so-called Defense of Marriage laws.


In Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had forbidden laws banning discrimination against gays.

President Clinton signs a federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Gallup begins tracking public opinion on legalizing same-sex marriage.


Ellen DeGeneres comes out in real life and on her TV sitcom, with more than 40 million people watching. In 2008, she marries actress Portia de Rossi in California.


After an Alaska Superior Court judge rules same-sex couples have a right to marry in the state, voters approve a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. More than 20 states will follow.

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin becomes the first openly gay non-incumbent to be elected to Congress.

Gay teen Matthew Shepard is murdered in Wyoming.

Will & Grace, a sitcom following the love lives of a gay male lead character and his straight female best friend, debuts.


Vermont becomes the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions.


The U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, ruling gays are "entitled to respect for their private lives," and strikes down a Texas sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.

Suzanne Rotondo of New York holds daughter Phoebe while kissing Kristi Habedanck after they receive a marriage license in Provincetown, Mass., on May 17, 2004. (William B. Plowman/Getty Images)


Early in the year, a few local governments around the country grant marriage licenses or officiate weddings for same-sex couples before being halted by the courts.

Same-sex couples legally marry for the first time in Massachusetts.

Thirteen states pass constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and some Republicans, including President George W. Bush, call for amending the U.S. Constitution.


New Jersey's Supreme Court rules gay couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples; the Legislature opts to legalize civil unions.

Eight states pass constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.


Democratic presidential candidates participate in forum on gay issues on Logo TV.


Connecticut's Supreme Court rules same-sex couples have a right to marry.

Richie Beanan of Los Angeles puts a sign on a bus in support of California's Proposition 8 gay marriage ban after a rally in Sacramento in October 2008. (Steve Yeater/AP)

California's Supreme Court overturns that state's gay marriage ban in May, legalizing same-sex marriage, but voters approve a constitutional amendment in November to end gay marriage.


Legislators in Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., legalize gay marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court strikes down the state's ban, legalizing same-sex marriage there.


New York's Legislature approves gay marriage.

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is repealed.


Maine, Maryland and Washington become the first states where voters legalize gay marriage.

President Obama becomes the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage.

Jay-Z and several other prominent hip-hop figures talk about their support for gay marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's ban on same-sex marriage.


Lawmakers in Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota vote to approve same-sex marriage (making a total of 12 states that legalize it, along with the District of Columbia).

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, meaning scores of federal benefits will now be available to legally married gay couples. The court also rules that supporters of California's same-sex marriage ban did not have the legal right to defend it in court, which could clear the way for gay marriage to resume in that state.

Compiled by Erica Ryan. Audio interviews conducted in March 2013 by Ari Shapiro.

Sources: SCOTUSblog, PBS, IMDb, Gallup, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, NPR

Originally published on March 21, 2013. Updated on June 26, 2013.

Copyright NPR 2019.


+Join the discussion

Support the news