9 of the Most Major Moments in American Marriage Equality

This story is a part of AfterEllen’s Toast to Marriage editorial series with SKYY Vodka and Freedom to Marry. Now through June, the campaign is encouraging supporters of equal marriage in every state to show their support by raising a Toast to Marriage on social media and encouraging friends, family and followers to do the same.


It was in the ‘70s that the United States first heard the case of a same-sex couple that was denied a marriage license in their home state of Minnesota. Three years after the Stonewall Riots exploded in New York City, Richard Baker and James Michael McConnell sued for the fundamental right to get married, and were ultimately denied. Now 43 years later, Baker vs. Nelson is used by the opposition to hold up that it was “dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.” (That’s legal speak for “we don’t have a good reason but we don’t want you to have equality.”)

With the Supreme Court deciding on equal marriage in the next few weeks, we are celebrating the major milestones that have gotten us to this point, in hopes we’ll soon be adding the biggest win of all.

Hawaii finds banning same-sex marriage is discrimination. In 1990, Ninia Baehr, Genora Dancel, Tammy Rodrigues, Antoinette Pregil and a gay male couple sued the state for denying their marriage applications. With the help of Lambda Legal, they pressed on to the State Supreme Court where it was decided in 1993 that denying them would be violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Hawaii State Constitution. This was the first-ever marriage equality trial and despite the achievements Baehr v. Miike made, DOMA was signed in 1996 by President Clinton and, in 1998, Hawaii voters passed an amendment to prevent discrimination laws from including same-sex couples.

Friends airs the first-ever lesbian wedding on TV. NBC’s sitcom was one of the top shows in 1996 when it aired Carol and Susan’s ceremony. We first met Ross’s ex-wife Carol in Season 1, one of the first recurring lesbian characters on a primetime show. The wedding made history of its own by not only hosting the nuptials, but in a positive light, with Monica catering and the rest of the Friends in attendance.


Massachusetts is the first state to get equal marriage. Out lesbian Mary Bonauto argued on behalf of GLAD for same-sex marriage in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. In 2003, she won, making Massachusetts the first state to allow same-sex marriage and setting the stage for others to follow suit.

GLAD Filing Suit On Behalf Of 7 Gay & Lesbian Couples

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon are the first same-sex couple to marry in California. Although the legendary activists were given a license when San Francisco made them available briefly in 2004, they had to get one again in 2008 after the state finally made them legal. Both times they were the first couple to be given the honor.

Human Rights Campaign Honors Barbra Streisand - Show and Audience
Canada legalizes same-sex marriage. While Massachusetts was a popular place for same-sex couples to get hitched, Canada became another option when it passed marriage equality in 2005. In 2007, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer traveled to Ontario to marry after finding out she had one year left to live.

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi get married. In 2008, People magazine featured an exclusive photo album and cover story dedicated to the world’s most famous lesbian and her new bride. This was the first time the popular publication featured a same sex wedding in such a prominent way.

Ellen DeGeneres And Portia de Rossi Wedding

President Barak Obama becomes the first sitting president to support equal marriage. In an exclusive interview with out lesbian Robin Roberts, the President said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” This 2012 announcement was a change from his previous stance, which supported civil unions for gay and lesbian couples looking to become legally intertwined.

Obama Expresses Support For Same-Sex Marriage During Television Interview

Edith Windsor wins United States vs. Windsor. The landmark civil rights case found that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional in the case of Edie and every other same-sex couple who were taxed on their partner’s estate after passing. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision was a close one, but the win was a huge victory that signified a major sea change in the way equality was being acknowledged on the legislative level.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments On California's Prop 8 And Defense Of Marriage Act

Supreme Court hears arguments for same-sex marriage. More than 40 years after the first official case for marriage equality, the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. In what will be considered another landmark decision, there are four separate cases from different states being decided on that will ultimately affect the rest of the U.S. The decision is expected to come sometime in June, which could make Pride month one of the most revolutionary since the original celebration of the Stonewall one-year anniversary in 1970.


For more events and history on marriage equality, check out Freedom to Marrys timeline.


This post is sponsored by SKYY Vodka and #ToastToMarriage. Visit the AfterEllen and Toast to Marriage Tumblrs for stories from married same-sex couples.