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The cases dealt with different aspects of the marriage issue

Prior to its decision in favor of marriage equality, the Supreme Court consolidated cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that dealt with two key issues: whether states should have to recognize — but not license — same-sex marriages from other states, and the broader issue of whether states should have to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Kentucky had both types of cases, Michigan had a licensing case, Ohio had two recognition cases, and Tennessee had a recognition case. Federal judges ruled in favor of same-sex couples in all of these cases before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples.

Here’s a quick summary of each case, based largely on Freedom to Marry’s great litigation tracker:

  • Bourke v. Beshear in Kentucky: Four same-sex couples sued Kentucky to have their out-of-state marriages recognized by the state. This lawsuit was later consolidated with Love v. Beshear.
  • Love v. Beshear in Kentucky: Two same-sex couples filed a motion to intervene in Bourke v. Beshear so that Kentucky would allow them to marry in the state. A federal judge rolled Bourke v. Beshear into this case.
  • DeBoer v. Snyder in Michigan: April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse sued Michigan so they could jointly adopt their three children, which the state prohibits. A judge later explained that the constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages in the state also prohibited the couples from adopting, prompting the couple to eventually expand their lawsuit to contest the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
  • Obergefell v. Hodges in Ohio: James Obergefell and John Arthur sued Ohio so the state would recognize their marriage in the death certificate of Arthur, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Arthur died in October 2013, as the court challenge was still pending.
  • Henry v. Hodges in Ohio: Four same-sex couples sued Ohio so both parents in a couple could have their names printed on their adopted children’s birth certificates. (Under Ohio law, only one parent in a same-sex relationship can have his or her name printed on a birth certificate.) The case was later expanded to cover not just Ohio’s birth certificate law, but also whether the state should recognize same-sex couples’ out-of-state marriages.
  • Tanco v. Haslam in Tennessee: Three same-sex couples sued Tennessee to have their out-of-state marriages recognized by the state.

These cases are a small sample of dozens of similar same-sex marriage lawsuits that have passed through the federal court system in the past few years. But these six cases made it to the Supreme Court because the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals split from other federal appeals courts, which had ruled in favor of marriage equality, when it upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, forcing the nation’s highest court to settle the appellate court split.

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