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It's been 20 years since same-sex marriage became legal. What has changed since?

Even though two decades have passed, a 2023 Gallup poll shows that just 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage.
Jim Obergefell
Posted at 4:31 PM, May 16, 2024

20 years ago, on May 17, 2004, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other progressive states followed suit, while conservative-led states resisted.

By 2008, even the Democrat elected to the White House, Barack Obama, voiced opposition to gay marriage, but his views, along with those of a majority of the Supreme Court, evolved on the matter, and in 2015, a 5-to-4 court ruled same-sex couples could wed across the nation.

In Texas, the state had banned gay marriage by law in 1973, and by constitutional amendment in 2005, the 2015 Supreme Court decision overruled that.

Today, by some estimates, including analysis by UCLA Law School's Williams Institute, there are about 50,000 married same-sex couples in the Lone Star State.

One of those couples lives in suburban Fort Worth. Surveying their garden, Chad Pritchett and Gary Garcia say they're like any other married couple.

"2008 is when we got married. It's been a great journey," Garcia said.

"In 2008, it became legal in California prior to becoming legal federally, and that's why we got it done then," Pritchett added.

They have been married for 16 years; they are also proud parents.

"We're just a married couple who want to sell tacos and raise our son. I feel we do better than most of these people," Garcia said. "I mean, our son speaks three languages. And, you know, he's learning Chinese and Spanish, and he's very highly educated."

Alexavier, their 8-year-old son, spoke of two dads deeply involved in school organizations, after-school sports, and church.

"Everyone in class loves him because of how much he gives to the whole class," said Alexavier Garcia Pritchett.

Rachael Treadwell and Lisa Hause have been married for four years. The lesbian couple says being public about their love gave them a sense of relief and belonging.

"It's been something that I've looked forward to my adult life to be able to stand in front of my family and my friends and profess love and have it have a legal stamp on it," said Treadwell.

In their Hill County, Texas, home, Hause and Treadwell have a menagerie of rabbits and dogs, all of whom manage to get along. Treadwell, a restauranteur who also worked as a bartender, fashioned a backyard cantina, and both host get-togethers with neighbors.

"I've also run into straight couples being surprised when they see the ring on my finger, and they're like, 'Oh my gosh, what does your husband do?' And I'm like, 'oh, actually, my wife works at a restaurant downtown Austin'," Hause said.

They say their community, while not perfect, is a welcoming and tolerant place for same-sex couples. Hause, a photographer, says some of her most favorite jobs were working at same-sex weddings.

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Lawyer Mark Phariss and his U.S. Air Force veteran husband, Vic Holmes, sued the state of Texas for the right to wed in 2013.

"When we heard the decision, I mean, we both just broke down, bawling with tears of joy," said Phariss.

Their lawsuit, combined with others, helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the country.

"The main thing is that we loved each other and we wanted to be a couple, and we wanted to be together. And there was no rational basis for the state to preclude that," Phariss said.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law, helped write briefs arguing for those rights. In the 1990s, he also led a chapter of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas, trying to change the party platform on LGTBQ+ rights. He's no longer in the Republican Party. Of the landmark decision, he said it was ultimately rooted in "equal protection for all couples under the law."

"It meant that they now could enjoy the benefits of marriage, and because there was now a social structure and a legal structure built around trying to solidify and sustain their relationships," said Carpenter.

In the 20 years since the first state issued same-sex marriage licenses, a Rand Corporation report finds that same-sex households experienced more stable relationships, higher earnings, higher rates of homeownership, and better preparation for retirement and end-of-life care.

The report concludes that marriage leads to better physical and mental health for couples, finding "perceived stigma declined."

A 2023 Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans supported same-sex marriage.

"It did help with having him, as you know, being a married couple. Going through everything, from moving to Texas, our insurance, having to transfer it," Garcia added.

He says prior to marrying Pritchett, the two did not enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples when it came to things like hospital visitations, sharing of medical records, probate, and estate matters, amongst many other things.

Still, opposition to same-sex marriage remains in conservative-dominated Texas. In 2022, the state Republican Partyput on its platform that marriage is only between a man and a woman, calling homosexuality "an abnormal lifestyle choice."

"My mother didn't come to our wedding," Treadwell said.

For some folks, politics has created rifts in families.

"It was heartbreaking, but not unexpected," she added.

Her wife, Lisa, in tears, took Treadwell by the hand during the interview, recounting the pain of her mother-in-law's absence from the happiest day of their lives.

"She was Rachael's best friend growing up. And as soon as she came out, that relationship completely changed," Hause said.

Both couples we interviewed hope their rights stay enshrined in law, but they say it's a right generations will have to vigilantly protect.

"I'm back to that, like scared and shuffling and wondering if our state is obviously, probably not, going to be on the right side of history on this one," Treadwell said.

Pritchett said the fight for his rights will be in the courts and in the ballot box going forward.

"We have to be engaged, and we have to continue to push the narrative on why we demand equal rights," Pritchett said.

Today, Gallup says about half of Republicans now support gay marriage. The conservative evangelical political consultant Ralph Reed told the Wall Street Journal, "In hindsight, (gay marriage) didn't do as much damage as we feared."