When Was Gay Marriage Legalized in California? A Look at the Long Road to Marriage Equality
The right for same-sex couples to legally marry in California has been a long and winding road, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. From banning same-sex marriage to briefly legalizing it and then banning it again, to finally restoring the right permanently, California has been at the center of the national debate around marriage equality.
Origins of the Gay Marriage Debate in California
The question of whether same-sex couples should have the right to legally marry in California first emerged in the 1970s. Here’s a brief overview of the origins of this debate:
Push for Domestic Partnership Recognition
In the 1970s, LGBTQ activists in California began pushing local governments to establish domestic partnership registries that would provide same-sex couples with limited recognition and benefits. These were very limited compared to legal marriage, but represented an important first step.
Legislation Banning Same-Sex Marriage
In 1977, California passed a law stating that marriage is a “personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman.” This effectively banned same-sex marriage in the state.
The Briggs Initiative
In 1978, an attempt was made to pass the “Briggs Initiative,” which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools. The measure ultimately failed, but demonstrated early efforts to prohibit rights for same-sex couples.
Domestic Partnerships Established, Same-Sex Marriage Still Banned
In the 1990s and 2000s, California began to establish more formal recognition for same-sex couples as domestic partners, while upholding the ban on same-sex marriage:
1999: California Creates Domestic Partnership Registry
In 1999, California became the first state to establish a domestic partnership registry that provided same-sex couples with some legal benefits and responsibilities previously only extended to straight married couples.
2000: Prop 22 Bans Same-Sex Marriage
In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22, which stated that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This cemented the ban on gay marriage in state law.
2003: Domestic Partners Rights Expanded
In 2003, California expanded the rights of registered domestic partners to include nearly all the state-level legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. However, it did not grant them federal recognition or the title of “marriage.”
Back and Forth: Same-Sex Marriage Is Legalized, Then Banned Again
In the late 2000s, same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California, only to be banned again. Here are the key events in this complex back-and-forth:
2005: Same-Sex Marriage Is Briefly Legalized
In 2005, same-sex couples were granted the right to marry in California for a brief window of time (from mid-May to mid-November). Civil rights groups including Equality California and the American Civil Liberties Union had brought cases before the court arguing that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
2008: Same-Sex Marriage Is Banned Again
In 2008, same-sex marriage was once again prohibited when California voters passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the state Constitution stating that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
This banned gay marriage after it had been briefly legalized in the state.
2010: Judge Overturns Prop 8
In 2010, a federal judge ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. However, an appeals court imposed an immediate stay, putting marriages on hold while the issue was debated further.
2013 Supreme Court Ruling and Beyond: Marriage Equality is Restored
After being banned, then briefly legalized, then banned again, same-sex marriage was finally restored permanently in California in 2013.
2013: Supreme Court Lets District Court Ruling Stand
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that proponents of California’s gay marriage ban (Proposition 8) did not have legal standing to appeal the 2010 district court ruling that the ban was unconstitutional.
This effectively let the district court’s ruling stand, and same-sex marriage was once again legal in California.
Post-2013: Same-Sex Marriage Remains Legal
Since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, marriage equality has remained the law of the land in California. Same-sex couples have had the freedom to legally marry in the state without interruptions since then.
2015: Obergefell v. Hodges
In 2015, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law nationwide with its landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Since then, same-sex marriage has been legalized across all 50 states.
The Incremental Road to Marriage Equality in California
Looking back, the road to legal same-sex marriage in California was an incremental one, characterized by starts and stops:
- Limited domestic partnership recognition began in the 1970s
- In 1977, same-sex marriage was banned
- Domestic partnerships were formalized in 1999, but did not amount to full marriage
- Voters banned same-sex marriage via Proposition 22 in 2000
- Domestic partner rights were expanded in 2003, but still not equivalent to marriage
- Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in 2005 before being banned again in 2008 with Prop 8
- District court overturned Prop 8 in 2010, but marriages on hold during appeal
- In 2013, the Supreme Court ruling let the overturning of Prop 8 stand, finally restoring marriage equality for good.
So in summary, gay marriage was not fully and permanently legalized in California until the 2013 Supreme Court decision.
Why the Gay Marriage Debate Was So Contentious in California
California was ground zero for the debate around same-sex marriage for several key reasons that help explain why this issue was so heavily contested:
Early LGBTQ Activism
California was home to some of the earliest activism and pushes for LGBTQ rights and recognition. Efforts by activists to gain partnership rights for same-sex couples began in the 1970s.
Large LGBTQ Population
California has one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the U.S. So a disproportionate number of same-sex couples were directly impacted by marriage laws in the state.
Pivotal Court Cases and Legislation
Key court cases and propositions originated in California and then went on to have national influence, like Proposition 8 and the landmark 2008 California Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Closely Divided Public Opinion
Opinion among California voters on the issue of gay marriage was very closely divided, leading to heated debate and close votes.
With such a large population, what happened with same-sex marriage laws in California had national relevance and set precedents for other states.
Impact of Legalizing Gay Marriage in California
Legalizing same-sex marriage had a range of important impacts in California:
- Allowed tens of thousands of same-sex couples to marry and gain legal rights and benefits
- Provided legal protections and security for children of same-sex couples
- Ended the discrimination faced by gay couples under previous marriage exclusion
- Boosted wedding industry as same-sex couples celebrated marriages
- Set influential precedents for other states nationally
Overall, legalizing same-sex marriage promoted equality for LGBTQ Californians and formally recognized their relationships and families. It was a huge milestone in the state’s ongoing journey towards full marriage equality and acceptance.
Conclusion: A Long Fight Marked by Twists and Turns
The road to marriage equality in California was one characterized by detours and U-turns. It took decades of activism and legal challenges to permanently secure the right to marry for same-sex couples in the state. From initial modest domestic partnership rights, to the brief legalization of gay marriage, to voter-approved bans, to hard-fought court victories, it was a rollercoaster ride. But ultimately, in 2013, same-sex marriage was legalized for good in California after a long civil rights struggle. This paved the way for full nationwide marriage equality two years later. California’s contentious history around gay marriage exemplified how difficult it was to achieve this milestone, but also how important.
FAQ: When was gay marriage legalized in California?
Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California in 2005, but this right was revoked with the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008. Finally, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruling let stand the overturning of Prop 8, fully restoring same-sex marriage rights in California from that point forward.
FAQ: What was Proposition 8 in California?
Proposition 8 was a 2008 ballot proposition and state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California after it had been briefly legalized in 2005. Prop 8 passed narrowly with 52% of the vote in 2008, but was eventually overturned by the courts.
FAQ: What did the 2013 Supreme Court ruling do for gay marriage?
The 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry let stand the district court decision that California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. This effectively legalized same-sex marriage again in California after Prop 8 had banned it.
FAQ: When was same-sex marriage banned in California?
Same-sex marriage was explicitly banned in California in 1977 by statute and again in 2000 when voters passed Proposition 22 stating marriage was only valid between a man and woman. The major overturning of same-sex marriage came via Proposition 8 in 2008 after it had been briefly legalized.
FAQ: How long were same-sex marriages performed in California before Prop 8 passed?
After the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in mid-2008, gay couples were able to marry in the state for about 5 months before voters passed Prop 8 in November 2008 banning it again. So same-sex marriages were performed for less than six months before being banned by Prop 8.