Same sex unions have been in existence for long but they were kept private. It was only recently that attempts were made to seek legal recognition for such unions.
In 1967 the United States Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia invalidated a state law that banned marriages between persons of different races holding that using race as a basis for denying marriage amounted to violation of the principles of due process of law and equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution. The court held that the state law had no legitimate objective besides racial discrimination.
Inspired by this decision in 1971 Jack Baker filed a lawsuit seeking recognition of his same sex marriage to Mike McConnell. The Supreme Court of Minnesota however dismissed the case holding that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman and the right to marriage is not a fundamental right.
In 1974 the Supreme Court of Washington held that Washington’s Equal Rights Amendment does not afford gays the right to marry. Protection was not available on the basis of sexual orientation.
Many other lawsuits were filed in state and federal court seeking recognition for same sex marriages. The 1976 California case Marvin v. Marvin is seen as a landmark case because it allowed unmarried partners to sue for support (palimony).
Gays and lesbians in an attempt to form legal relations began forming relationship where in one partner would adopt the other. In 1984, the City of Berkeley in California changed its domestic partnership laws to extend some form of recognition and family benefits to same sex couples. But for most gay rights activists, all these fall short of their main objective – legal recognition of gay marriages.