Marriage, as defined by the civil law, is currently available to same-sex couples in six countries, and parts of a seventh (but not at the national level in that country). The Netherlands was the first country to allow same-sex marriage in 2001. Same-sex marriages are also legal in Belgium, Canada, Norway, South Africa and Spain, along with two states in the United States: Massachusetts and Connecticut.
From May 2008, California allowed for same sex marriages, though Proposition 8 has overturned that right as of November 2008. In 2005, Spain became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage (including adoption rights) on equal terms and under the same law.
In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman amongst other stipulations.
As of May 2007, twenty-six states have passed constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage, eighteen of which prohibit the legal recognition of any same-sex union. Nineteen additional states have legal statutes that define "marriage" as a union of two persons of the opposite-sex. The territory of Puerto Rico ratified a similar statute in 1998.
Nonetheless, some states are beginning to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples, whether in the form of marriage or as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The states of Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire offer civil unions. Also, Oregon has domestic partnership laws that grant some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Maine, Washington, Maryland, and the District of Columbia grant certain limited benefits through domestic partnerships, and Hawaii has reciprocal beneficiary laws.