Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Marriage: Overview

The freedom to choose whether and whom to marry is a fundamental human right. It represents a couple’s lasting commitment to each other and to their family. Same-sex couples deserve the freedom to marry the person they love for the same reasons that different-sex couples have always enjoyed that freedom. Not only does marriage provide important legal protections, it is the most commonly understood and respected way in which couples make a public promise to love and care for each other and to announce to their relatives and friends that they are a family.

While not everyone wishes to marry—and couples that choose not to marry still deserve protection and respect—everyone should have the freedom to make this important choice. As a community, LGBT people deserve to be treated with equal dignity and to have equal protection of the laws.

NCLR is committed to securing the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples. NCLR has represented plaintiffs and filed friend-of-the court briefs in numerous state and federal cases seeking the freedom to marry, including in the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of California.

Today, 30 states, Washington D.C., and at least 9 tribal nations have marriage equality for same-sex couples. The 30 states that have marriage equality include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Kansas, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming are bound by court opinions to recognize and allow marriages for same-sex couples, but we are waiting for marriages to begin as of October 7, 2014. NCLR is co-counsel in marriage equality cases in Utah, Florida, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Fifteen states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships that provide some or many of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Many states offer same-sex couples no legal recognition at all. While civil unions and domestic partnerships may provide some protections, and some couples may choose to enter into them where available, they do not provide the same security as a legally recognized marriage. You can read NCLR’s summary of the laws regarding recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships.

NCLR is committed to full equality for same-sex couples and their children, the freedom to marry, as well as protections for unmarried couples, single persons, and all children regardless of the marital status of their parents. Over the past three decades, we have partnered with talented attorneys across the nation to advance the rights of and protections for LGBT parents and families. In 2003, NCLR convened a group of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys from around the country to discuss family formation and protection issues, evaluating national trends and cases in each state. The meeting proved invaluable to both NCLR and the private practitioners involved in addressing the ever-evolving legal challenges LGBT families face. The group continued to meet and to grow, and in 2006, was formally formed as NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council.

The battle to win marriage equality will have a lasting impact on the pace and progress of all LGBT civil and human rights in this country—for generations. By demanding fairness and equality for our families, we have changed the terms of the debate and made unprecedented strides. NCLR is at the forefront of this historic fight.


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