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  • Jon Kuhl
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June 26, 2013

What Today's U.S. Supreme Court Rulings on Same-Sex Marriage Mean for States

Washington, D.C.— The 12 states that already allow same-sex marriage, the District of Columbia and California will experience the biggest changes following  today’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings. If more states choose to allow or recognize same-sex marriages, they too will be affected by today’s rulings.

The changes follow two landmark same-sex marriage cases. The first, United States v. Windsor, challenged the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denying federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states where such unions are legal. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, citing Fifth Amendment equal liberty protections. The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenged California’s Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Finding that the opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a lower-court decision overturning California’s ban, the lower-court’s ruling now stands, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in California.


United States v. Windsor

“If you reside in a state that allows for same-sex marriage, you are now eligible for all federal marriage benefits,” said Susan Parnas Frederick, senior federal affairs counsel for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “If a same-sex couple residing in a state that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage gets married in a state that does, then returns home, whether or not they’re now eligible for federal marriage benefits can vary depending on the benefit.”

There are currently 13 states, in addition to the District of Columbia and now including California, that allow for same-sex marriage. In these states, same-sex couples will be eligible for all federal marriage benefits. Outside of these states, federal marriage benefits become more complicated, as many commonly thought-of federal benefits, such as jointly filing on federal income taxes, are tied to a married couple’s place of residence. There are currently no states that prohibit same-sex marriage while recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.


Hollingsworth v. Perry

“By deciding that the opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal the federal district court’s ruling against Proposition 8, the court has cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the state of California,” said Frederick. “Because of the court’s procedural ruling, this decision will only affect California.”

There are currently 35 states that prohibit same-sex marriage, although three of these states (Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois) allow for civil unions. New Jersey and New Mexico have no laws allowing for or prohibiting same-sex marriage.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.

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