Marriage road map

Spring is in the air and summer is just around the corner, which means that wedding bells are ringing. If you and your significant other are thinking about getting hitched, there's a lot to consider, especially what you want and where to do it. Where can you get legally married? Where can you get a civil union? Where can you get some recognition for your relationship?
Laws around this issue are changing rapidly – for better or worse – every day. Though you can't get legally married most places in this country, there are no laws in any state against having a ceremony and calling it whatever you want: wedding, marriage, holy union, commitment ceremony, etc. Perhaps you want to wait until your state recognizes your relationship. Perhaps it's important to you to have a ceremony and pledge your commitment in front of friends and family now. Perhaps you just want a big party. Each couple needs to decide what is right for them.
Whether you're going to the chapel or the civil servant, here's a quick guide to let you know what's out there.
Canada: Same-sex couples can get legally married in many parts of Canada, but not all of it. Equal marriage has yet to be declared legal country-wide. However, many provinces will marry gays and lesbians whether you're Canadian or not. For folks in Michigan it's just across the border and the only place same-sex couples here can get legally married. However, Michigan won't recognize your marriage, nor will anywhere else in the states (save New York City). However, many same-sex couples are heading to our neighbor to the North and getting married anyway, including Detroit News columnist Deb Price and her partner Joyce Murdoch. In fact, Price speaks out often on the subject, urging gay Americans to legally tie the knot. Keep in mind, however, that it is legal marriage, so proceed with care and caution. If you're simply looking for something to do as a political statement, fly a rainbow flag, get a tattoo, or better yet lobby the state legislature for equal marriage rights. Keep up to date on marriage equality in Canada and find resources at
Massachusetts is the only state in the country where same-sex couples really can get married thanks to a landmark 2003 ruling. The state has been granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples since May 17, 2004. Unfortunately anti-gay Gov. Mitt Romney declared that a 1913 law created to prevent interracial marriages prevented town clerks from issuing licenses to out of state same-sex couples. A lawsuit has been filed by out of state couples and is pending. In the meantime, residents of the state can get married, but once they're outside of the state recognition is pretty dicey. No other state recognizes the marriages as of yet. The only place to do so explicitly is New York City.
Gays and lesbians can't get married in Vermont, but they can get civil unioned. Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions in 2000. In 1999 the state Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to refuse gays and lesbians the benefits and privileges married couples get, which is pretty much what happened later in Massachusetts. However, rather than let same-sex couples marry, the Vermont legislature compromised with a civil unions law that was signed by Governor Howard Dean on April 25, 2000. A civil union from Vermont is really only good in Vermont, however.
As of Oct. 1, 2005 same-sex couples will have the option of a civil union in Connecticut, the only state to pass civil union legislation without the burden of a court order on its back. Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell signed the legislation just last week, April 20, 2005. Of course, as with Vermont's civil unions, they won't be recognized out of state unless some other states change their laws in between now and Oct. 1.
New York:
Though a young mayor from New Paltz did cause a stir when he married a couple of gay folks last year, marriage for same-sex couples isn't legal in New York. However, New York City recently said that it will recognize marriages from outside the state – meaning if a couple married in Massachusetts or Canada relocates to NYC their marriage would be recognized, at least by the city. However, the city will not be doing marriages for same-sex couples itself.
Much like Hawaii, a lot of people think gays can marry in California. The flurry of same-sex couples marrying in San Francisco last year added to the confusion. Those marriages have since been declared invalid by the state. However, just last month a judge in San Francisco also declared it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. In addition, Assemblyman Mark Leto (D-San Francisco) is putting forth legislation to legalize marriage for all. So we'll definitely be watching the Sunshine State to see just how bright the future gets. In the meantime, California does have a domestic partnership registry that grants same-sex couples almost all of the same rights as married couples, unfortunately it isn't recognized by any other state or the Federal Government.
New Jersey and Maine:
Same-sex couples in New Jersey and Maine can be recognized under a domestic partnership act since 2004, though the states' laws aren't nearly as extensive as California's and don't grant as many rights. But like California's, hey also aren't valid out of state.
Though thousands of same-sex couples were given marriage licenses in 2004, marriage for same-sex couples is not legal in Oregon. Earlier this month the state Supreme Court nullified those marriages and a constitutional amendment banning equal marriage passed in November 2004. However, a civil unions bill is pending and it has been endorsed by the state's governor.
You can't get married in Washington, however two trial courts ruled last year that it's unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples. The case is now on appeal.
New Mexico:
Though there was a small flurry of marriage licenses given to same-sex couples by a renegade county clerk (a Republican, though a Republican that's more or less been disowned by the party), New Mexico is not a state that recognizes or allows the marriages of same-sex couples.
Though many people, gay and straight, mistakenly believe that gays can get married in Hawaii, it isn't true. The confusion began in 1993, when the Hawaii Supreme Court said that it was unconstitutional to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry. This was upheld by a lower court in 1996 and bounced back to the Supremes. Unfortunately, in 1998 voters passed an anti-marriage amendment similar to those passed in many states across the country and the court washed its hands of the case. So you can't get married here. But you could have a heck of a honeymoon.
Pretty much the same thing that happened in Hawaii happened in Alaska during pretty much the same time. So you can't get married here, either, and it's not a hot honeymoon spot to boot.