“Love has no gender - compassion has no religion - character has no race.” - Abhijit Naskar, Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality
A History of Marriage in the US
Marriage, marriage law, and relationship dynamics have evolved over the decades, both within the United States and globally. To understand where we are now, it’s helpful to understand the history of marriage in the U.S.
The 17th Century
In the mid-1600s, Maryland established a law that punished White women who entered interracial marriages with Black men, declaring that the White women and their children become enslaved as well. This particular law did not include similar penalties for White men who married Black women.
Later, Virginia expanded this law to both White men and women who entered into an interracial marriage with a Black person, but rather than face enslavement, the law mandated exile, which was effectively a death penalty.
17th-century laws also banned divorce, except in documented cases of adultery.
The 19th Century
America adopted English common law until the late 19th century, which maintained that a woman's identity was subsumed in her husband's upon marriage.
Throughout the 19th century, the husband had sole ownership over his wife’s property and income, and it was believed—as reinforced by a New York court in 1863—that giving wives independent property rights would "sow the seeds of perpetual discord" in the marriage.
However, earlier in 1830, Mississippi was the first state to grant women the right to own property independent of their husbands.
In the 1920s, more than 75% of the United States had laws prohibiting Whites from marrying outside their race, including marriage to individuals in Black, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Filipino communities.
Still, people in the 1920s began to see sexual desire as part of one’s identity, and LGBTQ+ subcultures blossomed during this period.
In 1958, the New York Court of Appeals upheld that wives couldn't sue their husbands for loss of personal services, including housekeeping and sexual attention, because wives (not the husbands) were expected to provide those personal services anyway.
Divorce law remained mostly intact from the 17th century, but Oklahoma's 1953 law finally allowed no-fault divorces for couples who mutually wanted to end the relationship.
Virginia’s 276-year ban on interracial marriage ended in 1967, through the Loving v. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court case.
For the first time in U.S. history, marriage is declared a civil right.
By the late 1960s, divorce laws were being adjusted to support couples who wanted to divorce, regardless of reason.
In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not deny a married couple the right to practice birth control.
Throughout the 1970's, the husband had the final say in most family domains, including where they lived and other critical decisions. Furthermore, the division of marital roles was reinforced when women had to maintain the house, raise the children, and provide sex, and the men were required to financially support the household.
By the 1970s, many heterosexual couples proclaimed they were "childless by choice, rejecting traditional heterosexual norms and marital expectations.
By the 1980s, America repealed the traditional "head and master" laws so that legal codes no longer ascribed different responsibilities and rights to husband and wife.
By this decade, heterosexuals successfully turned marriage into a voluntary partnership based on love rather than a mandatory economic and political relationship.
In 1984, Berkeley, California became the first to grant any kind of legal partnership rights to same-sex couples via the nation's first domestic partnership ordinance.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was established so that states would not be obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Additionally, it stated the federal government would not recognize gay marriage at all.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to voluntarily offer benefits to same-sex couples with its civil union law.
Massachusetts became the first state to legally recognize same-sex marriage in 2004, and Connecticut becomes the second state to approve same-sex unions a year later.
By 2006, New Jersey recognized same-sex union, and Iowa overturned the state ban on same-sex marriage in 2009.
By 2011, President Obama declared DOMA unconstitutional.
In 2013, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Mexico legalize same-sex marriage, followed by Oregon, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and South Carolina the following year.
Marriage between same-sex couples was legalized in the United States on June 26, 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” — Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy