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A timeline of same-sex marriage in the United States

This year, the issue is on the ballots of four states.

By Kristin Wong Nov 6, 2012 4:27PM

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Since then, 10 other countries have followed suit—Argentina, South Africa and Spain are just a few among that handful. While some jurisdictions in the United States have made it legal for same-sex couples to tie the knot, there's still a way to go, and today, the issue of marriage equality will be on the ballots of four states.

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Voters in Washington and Maryland will have to decide on whether to reject or uphold a law that legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year. Maine will vote on a citizen's initiative to establish same-sex marriage, and in Minnesota, voters will decide on whether their state constitution should be amended to define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. The state-specific legislation may be enough to make your head spin, but here's a brief history of same-sex marriage in the United States.

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1970: Jack Baker and Michael McConnell apply for a marriage license in Minnesota. The marriage license is denied, and an appeal ends at the U.S. Supreme Court, which declines a request to review the case. A year later, the couple obtains a marriage license in a different county in their state. A Methodist minister officiates the ceremony and executes the license.

1973: Maryland becomes the first state to ban same-sex marriage. In the next two decades, 45 other states follow suit.

1993: President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy is implemented. The Hawaii State Supreme Court rules that the state statute limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional.

1996: President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act into law. The federal government is banned from recognizing any kind of same-sex union.

1998: In Hawaii, voters approve a constitutional amendment that gives the legislature sole jurisdiction over marriage laws. In Alaska, voters approve a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

1999: California's Gov. Gray David signs a bill into law that gives limited rights for same-sex couples in domestic partnerships.

2000: Vermont legalizes civil unions.

2001: On Valentine's Day, gay and lesbian couples ask for marriage licenses in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco.

2003: The Massachusetts Supreme Court asks the legislature to allow same-sex couples to marry.

2004: Some cities begin approving marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but those licenses are later nullified. On May 17, same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts. Six months later, 11 states pass constitutional amendments that ban same sex marriage: Eleven states pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon and Utah. Some of those states also ban domestic partnerships and civil unions.

2005: New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg orders cities to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. Judge Richard Kramer of the San Francisco County Superior Court rules California's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Canada becomes the first nation in the Americas to legalize gay marriage.

2006: Arizona becomes the first state to reject an initiative banning same-sex marriage; New Jersey's Supreme Court rules unanimously in favor of marriage equality.

2008: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in California and Connecticut. However, a measure overturns the legalization in California, banning it again.

2009: Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all legalize same-sex marriage, but it's then overturned in Maine later that year.

2010: Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire legalize same sex marriage.

2011: The Obama administration drops defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. New York legalizes same-sex marriage.

2012: President Obama becomes the first U.S. president to publicly support same-sex marriage. North Carolina votes for a constitutional amendment that bans not only same-sex marriage, but civil unions as well. Washington state's Gov. Chris Gregoire signs a same-sex marriage bill into law, as does Maryland's Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Referendums are then passed in both states, which overturn the legislation but allow voters to decide whether to pass a same-sex marriage initiative.

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Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

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