Where in the US are same-sex marriage rates highest?
From the Stonewall Riots of 1969 to the national debate over gender-affirming care for trans people today, LGBTQ+ Americans have been fighting for visibility and equality since the time of Marsha P. Johnson and the early days of the gay liberation movement. After decades of marches, protests, and passionate activism regarding discriminatory policies designed to prevent marriage equality from becoming a reality, same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in 2015.
Stacker examined U.S. Census data to find which states have the highest rate of same-sex marriages. Less than a decade after the Supreme Court decision, many of the 7.1% of Americans who identify as LGBTQ+ have taken the plunge. Additionally, about 1% of all married couples in the U.S. are made up of same-sex partners. States with the largest population of same-sex married couples overall include California, Texas, and Florida.
Prior to the ruling on the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, individual states decided whether to legally recognize same-sex marriage. All the states in the top five on this list legalized same-sex marriage prior to it becoming national law—Massachusetts being the first to do so in 2004.
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- Total same-sex married couples: 19,629
- Share of all married couples: 1.35%
Washington’s history of marriage equality spans over four decades. The first notion of marriage equality came only five years after Stonewall, when Singer v. Hara came before the Washington Supreme Court in 1974. Plaintiffs argued that Washington’s Equal Rights Amendment—the 1973 law that prohibited discrimination on the account of sex—effectively made the denial of same-sex marriage discriminatory, an argument which the court rejected. More than three decades later in 2006, the Anderson v. King County case challenged the ban on same-sex marriage under Washington law, which also failed.
Public opinion on same-sex marriage in Washington state didn’t turn toward equality until the tragic ending to the love story of Kate Fleming and Charlene Strong of Madison Valley. When Fleming was critically injured in a flash flood and died in her hospital room, her partner of nearly a decade wasn’t allowed to be by her side because the hospital said she needed the permission of Fleming’s “next of kin” to be allowed.
After that story spurred sympathy among Washingtonians, several laws passed giving same-sex couples some of the same rights as heterosexual ones, little by little, until Washington legalized gay marriage on February 13, 2012. Along with Maine and Maryland on November 6, 2012, Washington became one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote. So it stands to reason that the Evergreen State is continually named one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly places to live in America.
- Total same-sex married couples: 18,746
- Share of all married couples: 1.51%
On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found the ban on equal marriage unconstitutional, citing that it essentially created “second-class citizens.” On May 17, 2004, Marcia Kadish and Tanya McCloskey—a couple living in Malden—married at Cambridge City Hall, becoming the first legally married same-sex couple in U.S. history. Before the day ended, 77 other same-sex couples followed suit.
Massachusetts is considered exceedingly friendly to LGBTQ+ folks, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an organization that tracks civic policy for LGBTQ+ citizens. The designation is based on the state’s laws surrounding adoption and equality in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and governmental nondiscrimination laws. This may be why 21% of Massachusetts’s LGBTQ+ population are raising children in the state, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.
- Total same-sex married couples: 2,773
- Share of all married couples: 1.56%
Although one of the smallest states in the country, Delaware is big on the rights of its almost 40,000 LGBTQ+ citizens. After legalizing civil unions between same-sex couples in 2011, Delaware eventually became the 11th state in the country to legalize marriage equality in July 2013.
Additionally, when same-sex marriage was legalized in the state, officials automatically converted all civil unions into marriages. It’s that sensitivity to the rights of its LGBTQ+ citizens that makes it one of the top three states in the country with the highest same-sex marriage rates. Delaware is also known for having one of the most dynamic and welcoming gay communities in the Northeast, and is host to many destinations that LGBTQ+ folks flock to—including Rehoboth Beach, Wilmington, and New Castle.
- Total same-sex married couples: 1,939
- Share of all married couples: 1.56%
In 1999, Vermont became the first state in the country to afford same sex couples rights as a couple in the eyes of the law. Vermont—long known as an LGBTQ+-friendly state—started what some argue was the domino effect that led to marriage equality throughout the country in 2015. The watershed case, Baker v. State, argued that denying same-sex marriage violated the constitutional equality guarantee afforded to every Vermont citizen.
The Vermont Supreme Court agreed and found that denying same-sex couples the rights and protections afforded to different-sex married couples was unconstitutional. Although the courts stopped short of true marriage equality and instead offered same-sex couples “civil unions,” the match was struck. Massachusetts, California, and other states slowly began to implement their own civil union policies, paving the way for marriage equality years later. Vermont’s trailblazing status could be why the Green Mountain State boasts the seventh-highest ratio of LGBTQ+ people in the country.
#1. District of Columbia
- Total same-sex married couples: 4,586
- Share of all married couples: 6.09%
Although it’s the only location on our list to not actually be a state, Washington D.C. tops the list when it comes to same-sex marriage rates. In 2009, Mayor Adrian Fenty recognized same-sex marriage in the district, becoming one of the first places in the U.S. to do so after Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and Iowa.
Even though the nation’s capital is 18 times smaller than Rhode Island (the smallest U.S. state), it boasts a much higher marriage rate for same-sex couples. This could be because Washington D.C. has the highest LGBTQ+ population percentage in the U.S., according to a 2019 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. It also has a justifiable reputation as one of the friendliest places to live for LGBTQ+ folks.