Collecting, Preserving and Teaching  
LGBT History of San Diego  
LGBT - Local
LGBT - National
Main Menu
Gala 2013
About the Archives
LGBT Collections
LGBT Library
Contact Us
Links of Interest
Material Donations
Office Hours
Volunteer Opportunities
Archives Honorees
Wall of Honor
Search the Archives
History of Marriage Timeline

Pre-500 BCE

Abraham (founding forefather of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) had his wife Sarah sleep with both the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Semitic King Abimelech for political positioning and increased riches. Unable to provide Abraham with an heir, Sarah encouraged Abraham to marry her Egyptian slave as his second wife (polygamy), which resulted in the son Ishmael. (Yalom 7)

• A wife was considered her husband’s property. Marriage was used to strengthen a family’s financial or political position. (Coontz 71)

Back to Top

5th Century BCE thru 1st Century BCE

• In Athens, “Marriage was respected as an institution that provided progeny and good housekeeping; it was not expected to fulfill one’s longing for a soul mate.” The ideal union was considered to be between an adult man and an adolescent boy. (Yalom 23)

• Marriage was a contract made between the bride’s father (or brother) and the groom. (Coontz 76)

• Romans were penalized if they were not married by a certain age. (Coontz 83)

• In 18 BCE, Augustus ruled that a husband was required to prosecute and divorce an adulterous wife within 60 days of discovering her act, but wives were explicitly restricted from bringing criminal accusations against their husbands. (Yalom 31-2)

• Toward the end of this period, “Roman marriage laws began to require the consent of the bride and groom.” The requirement for mutual consent between the bride and groom began spreading throughout the Western world and helped to change a wife’s position from a piece of property, like cattle, that could be given by the father to her husband. (Yalom 28)

Back to Top

1st Century CE thru 14th Century CE

• The early Christian church was hostile to marriage, believing that marriage and family were distractions from the path to salvation. To remain single and celibate was the ideal. (Coontz 85-87)

• If one did have carnal relations, marriage was grudgingly accepted, for as St. Paul said, “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9)

• Nero married two men, Sporus in 54 CE, and Doryphorus in 68 CE.

• Same sex weddings took place in increasing numbers over a period of time, but were outlawed in 342 CE. (Yalom 40)

St. Augustine “declared that married couples should engage in sex only to beget children, and should scrupulously avoid copulating merely for pleasure.” (Yalom 15)

• In 789 CE, Charlemagne decreed that divorced men and women could not remarry, even if the divorce was due to a spouse’s adultery.

• In 799 CE, after several previous marriages and concubines, Charlemagne married his lover of five years just before Pope Leo III Pope Leo III arrived for a state visit. Pope Leo III subsequently crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 CE. ( Boswell 168)

• Basil I, founder of the Macedonian dynasty, entered into three same-sex unions, first with Nicholas, a monk of the church of St. Diomede; then to John, son of a wealthy widow in Achaia, Greece; and then later to the Emperor Michael. After Basil entered a formal union with Nicholas it was reported that “they rejoiced in each other.” (Boswell 231-239)

• 1040 CE, “an official ban on polygamy issued by Rabbi Gershom ben Judah of Worms…put an end to the practice among German and French Askanazi Jews.” (Yalom 55)

• “Canon law made two changes that were to have long-term effects. First, the church pressured individuals to marry in the presence not only of witnesses, but also of a priest, and to perform this ceremony ‘at church.’ Second, it downplayed the need for parental consent, and foregrounded the mutual will of the intended spouses as the major criterion in the making of a valid marriage. This revolutionary doctrine would endure and flourish over the centuries.” (Yalom 46)

• Love preceding marriage began to take hold in Europe, when previously affectionate feelings or familial devotion was expected to develop after marriage. (Boswell 171-2)

Back to Top

15th Century CE thru 18th Century CE

• Because the purpose of marriage was to produce children, the Renaissance was rampant with advice on how and when to have sex. Pamphlets illustrating sexual positions and other bedroom “activities” were very popular in during the 1500s. (Sider)

• Although mutual consent and love preceding marriage had taken hold, marriage retained elements of its former status as a property arrangement. Once a woman was married, her husband became her legal guardian. Her husband legally owned all the property she brought to the marriage. (Sider)

• Governments and Churches in greater Europe successfully enforced a rule requiring church ceremony to validate a marriage beginning in the 16th century. This requirement came to England a bit later in, in 1735. (Coontz 106)

• "The first American couple to divorce obtained their decree in 1639 from a Puritan court in Massachusetts. Anecdotal evidence indicates that untold numbers of other colonists simply deserted their unwanted or offending mates."

Back to Top

19th Century CE

• 1801 Murray Hall, a prominent Tammany Hall politician in New York, was posthumously discovered to have been a woman. Hall dressed in men’s clothing, lived as a man, and was married twice, both times to women. Hall also voted in elections, which was illegal for women at the time. (“Murray Hall fooled many shrewd men”)

• Male/female relationships began to be characterized by intensive courtships, followed by marriage.

• Men and women were viewed by society as incomplete without each other. Nurturing women needed strong men. Men, whose lives revolved around economic and political associations, needed the emotional support of women.

• The Oneida Colony in upstate New York, founded by John Noyes in 1848, cultivated a form of group marriage called "complex marriage" in which theoretically every woman was married to every man. The community also practiced "scientific breeding" in which potential parents were matched by committee for physical and mental health.

• Under the Divorce Act of 1857 Divorce Act of 1857, a man could obtain the dissolution of a marriage if he could prove one act of infidelity on the part of his wife; but a woman had to prove that her husband had been guilty of both infidelity and cruelty.

• If a woman worked outside the home, everything she made belonged to her husband. Her children also belonged to her husband. If she divorced him, he kept all of her earnings and their children, even if he was a drunkard who beat her.

Biawacheeitchish, also known as Pine Leaf and Woman Chief, became a renowned war and camp leader among the Crow Indians. She dressed as a man when she went to war and had a number of wives. (“About the Crow”)

• Henry James’ novel The Bostonians contained themes of feminism and led to the coining of the term “Boston Marriage” to describe romantic friendships between women, which often included holding hands, cuddling, sharing a bed, and making open expressions of love for each other.

Back to Top

20th Century CE

• 1920’s Sexual Revolution - Dating was the new craze in restaurants and cars, away from the oversight of family. Popular culture embraced sex, but critics feared that marriage was on the rocks.

• Judge Ben Lindsey’s book, The Companionate Marriage, was influential. Lindsey proposed the use of birth control and delaying child rearing until the couple were sure they were compatible. (Lindsey)

• Sephardic Jews in the Middle East maintained the right to polygamy until an all-inclusive ban was pronounced in the mid-twentieth century, after the formation of the State of Israel. (Yalom 55)

• In the 1950s, marriage became almost universal in the U.S. Four out of five people surveyed in 1957 believed that preferring to remain single was "sick," "neurotic" or "immoral."

• 1967 In Loving v. Virginia the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thereby ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. The court’s decision was based on the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

• In 1969 in California, Troy Perry presides over the "holy union" of two women, Neva Heckman and Judith Belew — the first public same-sex marriage ceremony in American history (Fleisher).

• 1970-71, Minnesota – Jack Baker and James Michael McConnell sued Gerald Nelson, a clerk in Hennepin County, Minnesota, after Nelson denies them a marriage license. Their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. While Baker and McConnell awaited the results of their lawsuit, a courthouse clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, granted them a marriage license (Fleisher).

• 1975, Colorado – County clerk Clela Rorex decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples . Rorex defended her decision to issue the licenses: “I am not in violation of any law and it is not for me to legislate morality .” (Daily Camera). The issuing of marriage licenses in Colorado ended abruptly when a legal opinion by state attorney general J. D. McFarlane put an end to the practice (“May 7, 1975”). Six couples were issued licenses over a period of about one month, including David McCord and David Zamora, the first couple to receive their license (Daily Camera), and Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, who traveled from California to Colorado to obtain their license and who would go on to become longtime activists (The Advocate).

• 1989, Denmark – The first government-recognized same-sex union in modern history takes place.

• 1993-99, Hawaii – The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that absent a "compelling state interest," barring gay couples from marrying is a form of sexual discrimination. The case was sent back to the lower courts. A Hawaii circuit court ruled that barring same-sex marriage violates the state constitution's equal protection clause. The case was appealed. As the Hawaii Supreme Court considered arguments over the legality of denying same-sex couples the right to marry, Hawaii voters passed a constitutional amendment against gay marriage (Fleisher).

• 1996, United States – Bill Clinton, on January 3, signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even if the unions are lawfully conducted by a state (Fleisher).

• 1999-2004, California – The California legislature passed laws regarding domestic partnership. Originally domestic partnership granted very limited rights, such as hospital visitation. The institution was expanded over the years, creating an institution intended to grant gays and lesbians rights and responsibilities similar to marriage. Lesbian legislator Carole Migden was the primary author and sponsor of the domestic partnership bills (“Domestic partnership in California”). Early on during this period, in 2000, California voters passed the 14-word Proposition 22, which explicitly states: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” (Fleisher).

Back to Top

Dawn of the 21st Century CE (2000s CE thru the present)

• 2000, Vermont – Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to grant civil unions to same sex couples. Civil unions are intended to grant all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, although they are not recognized by the federal government. The legislation that created civil unions came about as a result of a state Supreme Court decision, in which the court ruled that denying marriage rights to same sex couples was unconstitutional discrimination (Goldberg).

• 2001, The Netherlands – Same-sex marriage becomes legal for the first time in modern history.

• 2003, Belgium – This country became the second to legalize same-sex marriage.

• 2003, Massachusetts – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples should have equal rights to marry under the state constitution. Their decision is based on the grounds of due process and equal protection (Fleisher).

• 2004, United States – President Bush announced support in February for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Voters in fourteen states subsequently passed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in elections held from August through November (“Gay Marriage Timeline”).

• 2004, California – On February 12th, at the order of Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On March 13, the California Supreme Court ordered a halt to same-sex marriages in San Francisco. More than 4,000 gay and lesbian couples were married over twenty-nine days (Murphy). Later that year, in August, the state Supreme Court voided the marriages that had been performed (“California high court voids same-sex marriages”).

• 2005, Navajo Nation – Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo President, vetoed a bill by the tribal legislature that banned same-sex marriage on the reservation (Fleisher).

• 2005, Connecticut – The Connecticut state legislature became the first in the U.S. to pass civil unions legislation without pressure from the courts (Yardley).

• 2005, Spain – Same-sex marriage became legal.

• 2005, Canada – Our neighbor to the north becomes the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

• 2005-06, California – California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and cited the 1948 case Perez v. Sharp, which struck down California's anti-miscegenation law. A California appeals court reversed Judge Kramer's ruling in a 2-1 decision. Meanwhile, the California Legislature passed AB 849, the first bill legalizing same-sex marriage without a court order. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately vetoed the legislation (Fleisher).

• 2006, Arizona – The state’s voters become the first to reject a constitutional amendment  banning same-sex marriage (“Gay Marriage Timeline”).

• 2006, New Jersey – Under circumstances similar to those in Vermont in 2000, the New Jersey state legislature enacted civil unions in response to a state Supreme Court order that same-sex couples be granted the same rights as married couples (“New Jersey governor signs civil unions into law”).

• 2006, South Africa – Same sex marriage becomes legal.

• 2007, Iowa – On August 31, Polk County, Iowa, Judge Robert B. Hanson ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. For the next four hours, gay marriage is legalized in Iowa, until Hanson halts further same-sex marriage licensing, pending the results of an appeal to the state Supreme Court (Fleisher).

• September 19, 2007, San Diego – In a tearful news conference, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders announced that he had reversed a previously-announced decision and would not veto a resolution in support of same-sex marriage that had been approved by the City Council. In announcing his decision, Sanders referred to gay and lesbian friends, staff members, and his own daughter. “In the end, I couldn’t look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships, their very lives, were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife, Rana,” said Sanders (Virgil).

• May 15, 2008 , Sacramento – California Supreme Court issued a decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Noting that the state’s domestic partnership law falls short of full equality, the ruling also holds that any discrimination based on sexual orientation must pass “strict scrutiny,” the same standard that applies to race and gender (In re Marriage Cases). Chief Justice Ronald M. George, an appointee of Gov. Pete Wilson (Dolan), writing for the majority stated that “An individual’s sexual orientation – like a person’s race or gender – does not constitute a legal basis on which to deny or withhold legal rights” (In re Marriage Cases).

• May, 2008, New York – Following an opinion by legal counsel, Gov. David Paterson directed all state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages that are performed in other jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, California, and Canada (Peters).

June 16 & 17, 2008, California – Some county clerks’ offices stayed open late on the 16th allowing same-sex couples to marry at the earliest moment permitted by the state Supreme Court’s May ruling. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were the first couple wed in San Francisco, in a ceremony officiated by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Lyon and Martin, together over fifty years, are longtime activists, founders of Daughters of Bilitis, the early Lesbian rights organization, and were the first couple married in 2004 in a rush of marriages in San Francisco that set the stage for the state Supreme Court’s May, 2008 decision (Hall). By the end of June 17, the first full day of gay and lesbian marriage in California, “well over 2,300 marriage licenses had been issued statewide. The statewide average for a weekday in June is 460… San Diego County issued 230 licenses, surpassing its old record of 176 set on Valentine’s Day 2005” (Landsberg).

• July 15, 2008, Massachusetts – An anti-miscegenation law from 1913, that had been used to prohibit non-resident same-sex couples from marrying in the state, is repealed by the State Senate. It is expected to pass the House and to be signed by the governor (Belluck).

• November 4, 2008, California – The struggle for equality continues. Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that would ban gay and lesbian marriage, appeared on the November ballot. Approved by a simple majority of voters, it attempts to overrule the state Supreme Court’s May decision in favor of marriage equality and throw those marriages that have been performed into legal limbo.

• January 1, 2009, Norway – Equal marriage rights becomes available to same-sex couples.

• 2012 - President Obama is the first sitting president to come out in favor of marriage equality, and it didn’t cost him at the polls. For the first time ever, a ballot measure against same-sex marriage (in Minnesota) was defeated. And for the first time ever, voters said yes to marriage-equality measures in Maine, Maryland and Washington state.

The Future

2012 - US Supreme Court may rule on California Proposition 8.

Back to Top


“About the Crow: History.” Library at Little Bighorn College website. Accessed July 16, 2008 at

Belluck, Pam, and Katie Zezema. “A 1913 law dies to better serve gay marriages,” New York Times, July 16, 2008. Accessed on July 16, 2008 at

Boswell, John, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: Vintage,1995.

“California high court voids same-sex marriages,” CNN, August 13, 2004. Accessed July 15, 2008 at

“County clerk issues gays marriage license,” Daily Camera, March 27, 1975. Accessed July 15, 2008 at Stonewall

Coontz, Stephanie . Marriage, A History: from Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage.  New York: Viking, 2005.

Dolan, Maura. “California Supreme Court overturns marriage ban,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2008. Accessed July 15, 2008 at Los Angeles Times

“Domestic partnership in California,” Wikipedia. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at  See Wikipedia’s references for primary sources.

Fleisher, Matthew. “Key moments in the struggle for gay marriage in the U.S.: Holy unions to Supreme Court battles,” L.A. Weekly, February 27, 2008. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at LA Weekly

“Gay Marriage Timeline,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Updated April 1, 2008. Accessed July 16, 2008, at

Goldberg, Carey. “In Vermont, gay couples head for the almost-altar,” New York Times, July 2, 2000. Accessed July 15, 2008 at New York Times

Hall, Carla, John M. Glionna, and Rich Connell. “Gay marriages begin as California ruling takes effect,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2008. Accessed July 15, 2008 at,0,473408.story?page=1

In re Marriage Cases, May 15, 2008. Accessed July 15, 2008 at

Landsberg, Mitchell, Nancy Vogel, and Tami Abdollah. “Gay marriages begin with a day of hope and hoopla,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2008. Accessed July 15, 2008 at LA Times

Lindsey, Ben B., and Wainwright Evans. The Companionate Marriage. Boni & Liveright, 1927.

“May 7, 1975: Gay couples get marriage licenses,” The Advocate, March 30, 2004. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at The Advocate

Murphy, Dean E., and Pam Belluck. “San Francisco sees tide shift in the battle over marriage,” New York Times, March 13, 2004. Accessed July 15, 2008 at New York Times

“Murray Hall fooled many shrewd men,” New York Times, January 19, 1901. Accessed July 16, 2008 at New York Times

“New Jersey governor signs civil unions into law,” Associated Press, December 21, 2006. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at

Peters, Jeremy W. “New York to back same-sex unions from elsewhere,” New York Times, May 29, 2008. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at New York Times

Sider, Sandra Handbook to Life In Renaissance Europe

Virgil, Jennifer. “Sanders changes mind on gay marriage,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 20, 2008. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at San Diego Union-Tribune

Yalom. MarilynA History of the Wife New York: Harpers, 2001.

Yardley, William. “Senate passes civil unions for gays in Connecticut,” New York Times, April 7, 2005. Accessed on July 15, 2008 at 

Back to Top