Prior to 2004, same-sex marriage was not performed in any U.S. jurisdiction. It has since been legalized in different jurisdictions through legislation, court rulings, tribal council rulings, and popular vote in statewide referenda.
The legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage in the United States are determined by the nation's federal system of government, in which the status of a person, including marital status, is determined in large measure by the individual states. Prior to 1996, the federal government did not define marriage; any marriage recognized by a state was recognized by the federal government, even if that marriage was not recognized by one or more states.
Same-sex marriage is now currently egally recognized by a majority of U.S. states and by the United States federal government. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and ten Native American tribal jurisdictions issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Several hundred marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Michigan and Arkansas between the time their bans were struck down by federal or state courts and when those rulings were stayed. Most Americans live in a jurisdiction where same-sex couples can legally marry.
According to the federal government's Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2004, more than 1,138 rights and protections are conferred to U.S. citizens upon marriage by the federal government; areas affected include Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave, and immigration law.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is one of the leading advocacy groups in support of same-sex marriage. According to the HRC's website,
"Many same-sex couples want the right to legally marry because they are in love - many, in fact, have spent the last 10, 20 or 50 years with that person - and they want to honor their relationship in the greatest way our society has to offer, by making a public commitment to stand together in good times and bad, through all the joys and challenges family life brings."
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