Civil unions and same-sex marriages first became legally recognized in the United States in this decade. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to recognize civil unions. Several other states have legalized civil unions since.

In 2002, a lawsuit brought by Derek R. Henkle against the WashoeCountySchool District (Nevada) ended in a settlement in which the district agreed to implement policies to support openly gay and lesbian students and to pay the plaintiff, a student who had complained of harassment and inaction on the part of school officials, $451,000 in damages. Perhaps the most important court case ever for gay men was 2003’s Lawrence vs Texas (539 U.S. 558). In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by extension, invalidated sodomy laws in thirteen other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state territory.

The court thus overturned its previous ruling on the same issue in the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick, where it had upheld a challenged Georgia statute and did not find a constitutional protection of sexual privacy. In 2004 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed city hall to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  However, all same-sex marriages done in 2004 in California were annulled. Later in 2008 Prop 8 illegalized same-sex marriage in California, but the marriages that occurred between the California Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the approval of Prop 8 illegalizing it are still considered valid. In 2004, same-sex marriage was legalized in the state of Massachusetts.

In March 2004, same-sex marriage was legalized in part of Oregon, as after researching the issue and getting two legal opinions, the commissioners decided Oregon’s Constitution would not allow them to discriminate against same-sex couples. The chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners ordered the clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses. However, later that year, Oregon voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as involving one man and one woman. The same-sex marriages from 2004 were ruled void by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Connecticut in 2008. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa in 2009 and was legalized in Vermont in 2009. In 2008 the Coquille Tribe legalized same-sex marriage, with the law going into effect in May 2009. Another important victory for gay men came when in 2009, due to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes PreventionAct being signed into law, the definition of federal hate crime was expanded to include those violent crimes in which the victim is selected due to their sexual orientation; previously federal hate crimes were defined as only those violent crimes where the victim is selected due to their race, color, religion, or national origin.

In 2010, same-sex marriage was legalized in the District of Columbia. That year same-sex marriage was also legalized in New Hampshire. In 2011, same-sex marriage was legalized in New York state, and by the Suquamish tribe of Washington.


Photo by Tristan B. on Unsplash