(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday issued rulings on two high-profile gay marriage cases. The court struck down a central part of a federal law that restricted the definition of marriage to a man and a woman, and also let stand a lower-court ruling throwing out California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
Following is a timeline of important events in the history of gay marriage in the United States.
- The modern gay liberation movement unofficially kicks off with the Stonewall Riots, demonstrations by gays in response to a police raid in New York City.
- The U.S. Supreme Court lets stand a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that the law does not allow for same-sex marriage, and that the issue is different from interracial marriage.
- Maryland becomes the first state to pass a statute banning gay marriage.
- Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco, winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors. He later appeals to gays to come out and run for office, saying "for invisible, we remain in limbo." Milk was shot and killed in 1978.
- The U.S. Supreme Court says "we are quite unwilling" to find a fundamental right to sodomy, even in the privacy of one's home, in Bowers v. Hardwick ruling.
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy writes an opinion striking down a Colorado ban on protections for gays, saying the ban "seems inexplicable by anything but animus."
- President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes.
- Comedian Ellen DeGeneres reveals she is gay. Shortly afterward, her TV situation comedy character says "I'm gay" - inadvertently speaking into an airport public address system.
- Debut of television show "Will and Grace" about a gay man and his best friend, a straight woman.
- Vermont becomes the first U.S. state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples.
- Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, indicates he supports gay marriage, saying "freedom means freedom for everybody" and "people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into." He said states should regulate the matter, not the federal government. Cheney serves as vice president for eight years.
- The U.S. Supreme Court, in another decision written by Kennedy, strikes down Texas anti-sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas case and reverses the 1986 Bowers ruling. Kennedy writes that this does not mean the government must recognize gay relationships. "Do not believe it," Justice Antonin Scalia dissents, saying the logic of the opinion points to allowing same-sex marriage.
- The Massachusetts Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, and gay weddings begin in 2004.
- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directs the county to allow same-sex marriages, arguing the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, Proposition 22, is unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court stops the weddings on grounds unrelated to the constitutionality of marriage.
- U.S. northern neighbor Canada allows gay marriage.
- California gay marriages become legal when the California Supreme Court strikes down the Proposition 22 ban. That November, voters add a ban to the state constitution - Proposition 8 - ending a summer of gay marriage.
- Iowa state Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage.
- Federal court challenge to Proposition 8 filed, days before California Supreme Court lets Proposition 8 stand as a valid change to the state constitution. Eventually, federal district and appeals courts agree to strike down the ban, which heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- The U.S. Congress passes legislation to end a policy put in place in 1993 called "don't ask don't tell" that had barred gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. President Barack Obama signs the measure. The policy officially ends in 2011.
- Obama becomes the first U.S. president to endorse gay marriage, acknowledging that his views on the matter had evolved.
- North Carolina approves a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in May. In November, Maine, Maryland and Washington become the first states where voters approve same-sex marriage, and Minnesota rejects a new ban.
- The U.S. Supreme Court in March hears oral arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
- The Boy Scouts of America organization votes in May to lift a century-old ban on openly gay scouts in a victory for gay rights activists. A prohibition on openly gay adult leaders remains in place.
- Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware in May become the latest U.S. states to allow same-sex couples to marry, bringing to 12 the number of states permitting it. The other states allowing same sex marriage are: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia.
- The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 rules that married same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits - striking down a key part of a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, and also paving the way for gay marriage in California. The two 5-4 rulings in separate cases represent a significant victory for the gay marriage movement but fall short of a landmark ruling endorsing a fundamental right for gay people to marry.
(Reporting by Peter Henderson and Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham)