marriage vs. civil unions
in your state

Rites & Rights


As a Certified Celebrant and Wedding Officiant in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island, I know how volatile the discussions on rules and regulations are when it comes to same-sex marriage. A lot has changed, and much more will change in the future.
On this page I want to inform you on the latest civil union and same-sex marriage laws and regulations, in New York State, and in the surrounding states where I offer my services.


New York

On June 24, 2011 to great fanfare, the New York marriage equality movement passed its final hurdle in the State Legislature. Through the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the courage of the majority of State Senators and Assembly members, and the political mobilization of countless individuals and organizations in New York and beyond made the Empire State the sixth—and largest—state to support full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In New York City, all couples are required to apply for a marriage license, through the City Clerk’s office, at least 24 hours before the wedding ceremony. The straightforward application process is described on the City Clerk’s website. Following a ceremony conducted by a registered wedding officiant, the application is returned to the City Clerk’s office, with a final certificate issued in approximately six to eight weeks.

New Jersey

As of February 19, 2007, same sex couples can apply for a civil union. Civil unions in New Jersey grant most of the benefits of marriage to gay couples. These benefits include adoption, medical decision-making, inheritance, health insurance opportunities, hospital visitation, and the ability to not testify against a partner. The rights are not extended to federal benefits or courts.

Additionally, gay couples legally married or joined in a civil union in other locales will automatically be considered to be in a civil union in New Jersey.


Same-sex marriage in Vermont began on September 1, 2009. Vermont was the first state to introduce civil unions in July 2000, and the first state to introduce same-sex marriage by enacting a statute without being required to do so by a court decision.


In Main, same-sex marriage became legal on December 29, 2012. The bill for legalization was approved by voters, 53-47 percent, on November 6, 2012, as Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Election results were certified by the Maine Secretary of State’s office and the Governor of Maine on November 29.


Same-sex marriage in Maryland became legal on January 1, 2013. The Civil Marriage Protection Act was signed by Governor Martin O’Malley on March 1, 2012, which provided same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain a civil marriage license while protecting religious institutions from having to perform any marriage in violation of their doctrine.

Some who opposed the law obtained signatures in a referendum petition to place the law on the state’s general election ballot for approval or rejection by voters. On November 6, 2012, the measure passed with 52.4% of the vote as one of the first instances in which voters approved marriage equality for all couples.

New Hampshire

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Hampshire on January 1, 2010, replacing civil unions. On January 1, 2011, all civil unions in the state became marriages unless otherwise dissolved, annulled or previously converted to marriage.

On January 1, 2008, civil unions became legal in the state. Legislation for same-sex marriage was signed into law by the governor on June 3, 2009. New Hampshire was one of a series of states in 2009 to legalize same-sex marriage in New England.


Same-sex marriage in Iowa became legal following a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court on April 3, 2009. Marriage license became available to same-sex couples on April 27, 2009.

State Laws in a Nutshell:

As of January 2013, nine states —New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington— as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribes — have legalized same-sex marriage.

In addition, Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, and California, which briefly granted same-sex marriages in 2008, now recognizes them on a conditional basis.

  • New York: During the summer of 2011, the Empire State became the sixth—and largest—state to support full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
  • New Jersey: Same-sex civil unions are allowed.
  • Connecticut: Same-sex marriages have been legal since November 2008.
  • Rhode Island: recognizes gay marriages if performed in another state, allows the formation of civil unions.
  • Vermont: Same-sex marriages have been legal since September 2009.
  • Massachusetts: Same-sex marriages have been legal since May 17, 2004.
  • Washington DC: Same-sex marriages have been legal since December 2009.
  • New Hampshire: Same-sex marriages have been legal since January 2010.
  • Iowa: Same-sex marriages have been legal since April 2009.
  • Main: Same-sex marriages have been legal since November 2012.
  • Maryland: Same-sex marriages have been legal since January 1, 2013.
  • Washington State: Same-sex marriages have been legal since December, 2012.


On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3, that the state’s civil unions violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. As of November 12, 2008, same-sex marriages are legal in Connecticut. Additionally, effective January 2005, same-sex couples can be legally united through a civil union. If the ceremony is performed at City Hall, an officiant pronounces couples as “partners in life.”


Rhode Island

Same-sex marriages in Rhode Island are recognized if performed in another state, but can not be licensed by the state of Rhode Island. The state has authorized a limited form of domestic partnerships since 2002 and the formation of civil unions since July 1, 2011.

Washington DC

On December 15, 2009, Washington DC became the sixth place in the nation where same-sex marriages can take place. The law survived Congressional attempts to block it. The District became the only jurisdiction in the United States below the Mason–Dixon Line to allow same-sex couples to marry.


In Massachusetts, same-sex marriage began on May 17, 2004, as a result of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that it was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution to allow only heterosexual couples to marry.

Massachusetts became the sixth jurisdiction in the world (after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec) to legalize same-sex marriage. It was the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


Same-sex marriage in Washington state has been legal since December 6, 2012. On February 13, 2012, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a same-sex marriage bill that had been passed by both houses of the state legislature. Voters approved the legislation in a referendum held on November 6, 2012. The law took effect on December 6 and the first marriages were celebrated on December 9, 2012.

Please note: The above information was accurate when it was published. Marriage and Civil Union license requirements often change. The above information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as legal advice.