Current Landscape: Momentum Towards Nationwide Marriage Equality Is Undeniable

by Stephen Peters


WASHINGTON– With 30 states now guaranteeing marriage equality to same-sex couples, the momentum towards full nationwide marriage equality is undeniable.  Following last week’s news from the Supreme Court of the United States declining to hear any of the cases pending before them challenging state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, there has been an unprecedented expansion of marriage rights across the country. 59% of Americans now live in a state with marriage equality, including Washington, DC.

“Laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying serve no purpose other than to harm Americans who simply want to protect and provide for themselves and their families,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s Legal Director. “As court after court continues to affirm, the U.S. Constitution does not permit states to continue discriminating against committed and loving gay and lesbian couples.”


The landscape of marriage equality is changing dramatically as decision after decision from the courts continue to affirm the right of committed same-sex couples to marry. Here’s where marriage equality currently stands, and where the momentum is headed:

●  States with Marriage Equality (30):

19 States: Prior to any decisions from the Supreme Court on pending cases challenging state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, 19 states plus Washington, DC, guaranteed marriage equality to same-sex couples.

24 States: On Monday, October 6th, the Supreme Court declined to hear any of the pending cases challenging state bans on marriage for same-sex couples from the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits. This allowed the circuit court decisions striking down the bans to stand--specifically in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana--bringing the total number of states with marriage equality to 24 states plus Washington, DC. In addition, it left in place the circuit court rulings from these same circuits, meaning in addition to these states, couples in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming would soon be able to marry as well.

28 States: On Tuesday, October 7th, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional in Idaho and Nevada. That same day, the stay on the court ruling in Colorado was lifted, allowing same-sex marriage to proceed. On Thursday, October 9th, West Virginia’s Attorney General agreed to stop defending the state’s ban, bringing the total number of states with marriage equality to 28, plus Washington, DC.

30 States: On Friday, October 10th, a federal district judge ruled against North Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, and on Sunday, October 12th, a federal district judge ruled Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. These decisions brought the total number of states with marriage equality to 30, plus Washington, DC.

As a result of these actions, same-sex couples are now able to marry in 30 states and Washington, DC, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

●  Marriage Momentum - Equality Coming Soon (5):

Although the remaining five states in the Ninth, Fourth and Tenth circuits still have same-sex marriage bans on the books, the federal appellate rulings in these circuits have set precedent. With 5% of the U.S. population, marriage equality should soon become reality in: Arizona, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

●  Remaining States with Marriage Bans (15):

Progress still needs to be made in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Eleventh Circuits. While judges have issued rulings in many of the following states, these decisions continue to work their way through the courts.  Committed and loving same-sex couples are still prohibited from marrying in: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

●  Imminent Decision Expected in Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee): Federal district court judges in six cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee (10% of the U.S. population) have ruled  same-sex marriage bans or state refusals to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state as unconstitutional. All of these cases are currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and a decision could come at any time.

●  Remaining States:

○  Fifth Circuit (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas): A federal district judge has ruled Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.  The  ruling has been  stayed pending appeal. A federal district judge upheld Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban. This is the only federal court decision to find in favor of state same-sex marriage bans since the Supreme Court’s Historic ruling in Uniteds States v. Windsor.  Both of these decisions are pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Oral arguments have yet to be scheduled. There has been no federal court decision with regards to Mississippi’s ban to date. .

○  Eighth Circuit (Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota): There have been no federal court decisions with regards to state same-sex marriage bans in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, or South Dakota to date. A state court judge in Arkansas found the state same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The decision has been stayed pending a decision by the state supreme court. The Missouri attorney general announced on Oct. 6th that the state would not appeal a state court ruling requiring state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. 

○  Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Florida, Georgia): In Florida, one federal judge and four state judges have ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. The federal case out of Florida is pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Oral arguments have yet to be scheduled. There have been no federal court decisions with regards to  Alabama’s or Georgia’s bans to date.

Gallup puts support for marriage equality at 55 percent – an astonishing 15 point increase from just 5 years ago – with other polls showing support at even higher margins.  And support for same-sex marriage rights continues to grow in virtually every demographic group.  According to ABC News / Washington Post, 77 percent of adults under age 30 favor marriage equality.  40 percent of Republicans – an all-time high and jump of 16 points in under two years – now support marriage for gay and lesbian couples, while the number of Catholics supporting marriage has grown to 62 percent, according to the New York Times. These numbers continue to grow, with no indication that support will slow down.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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