Philadelphia, PA

At the heart of the debate on gay marriage are the gay couples who have made life-long commitments to each other, many without recognition by their state and sometimes without that of family members. Portraits of Marriage documents five of these couples and their families as they live through the United States' recurring debate over whether separate can ever be equal.

Ryan kisses Sarah before a zine reading in Philadelphia. Ryan and Sarah held a commitment ceremony in June of 2013 in Pennsylvania where they live. In May of 2014, a U.S. district court struck down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage, making their commitment official.

Harry hugs his sister Lilly before his bedtime story. For Amy (left) and Casandra, who live in Boston, marriage grew in importance as they built a family together. In a letter to the editor of the Beacon Hill Times, Casandra recalled, "When I explained to our then 4 year old daughter what the protests we would pass on the way to preschool were about, she was shocked to find out that her Moms were not married. I told her that we considered ourselves very much married, but she was disappointed with this answer, and suddenly, so was I. I realized I had just gotten used to not having the right..."

Mateo cuts David's hair on their porch in Athens, Ohio. David and Mateo met in Santa Fe when David was working there for a summer. When David returned to Ohio, Mateo joined him. They have been partners for ten years, and recently held a marriage ceremony in New York. Several legal cases challenging Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage are making their way through the court system, but the state's constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage currently remains in place.

Nicole plays with Otis, the newest addition to the household while Kat, feeling sick, rests on the sofa at their home in New Jersey.The two are engaged and live in New Jersey with Nicole's children, Matteo and Sophia. N.J. began recognizing same-sex marriages in October 2013.

Sarah holds her partner, Stephanie's, hand while watching a blues performance. Sarah and Stephanie live in Mississippi with Stephanie's youngest son. Stephanie's older boys have recently moved away to college. For many years, Stephanie was unwilling to come out as gay for fear that people's negative reactions would impact her children.

Casandra hangs a banner for Amy's 50th birthday celebration as their daughter Lilly and her friends chat on the other side of the room. Amy and Casandra have been together for 23 years and got married in January of 2005, just about eight months after it became possible for them to do so in Massachusetts.

A drawing welcomes visitors to Matteo's home, which he shares with his sister, mom and stepmom-to-be. Nicole, Matteo's mother, is engaged to Kat, and the two live together with the children in northern New Jersey.

Amy hugs Casandra in their kitchen while their daughter Lilly dances nearby.

Sarah and Stephanie enjoy a drink together at a bar in Oxford, Mississippi. In 2004, Mississippi passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as valid only between a man and a woman.

Amy reads to Harry before bed, something they have been doing nightly since he was a baby.

Sarah checks her hair and make-up on her wedding day. Sarah and her partner Stephanie came to New York City to be married, although they are residents of Mississippi.

Nicole talks with Matteo after he and his sister got into a fight.

David and Mateo spend a few moments in bed together before starting their day.

Kat washes dishes while Nicole makes a phone call. Until a year ago, only civil unions were permitted to gay couples in their state of New Jersey. In 2008, upon passing the civil union law, the state government also created the N.J. Civil Union Review Commission. The commission's research concluded that "Civil union status is not clear to the general public, which creates a second-class status".

Casandra yawns over her morning coffee as she gets Lilly ready for school.

Lilly and Harry jump on a trampoline at a friend's house in Boston.

Family photos decorate the bathroom at Amy and Casandra's home in Boston.

Sarah and Stephanie share a kiss while celebrating with friends the night before their wedding ceremony in New York City.

Amy takes a rest from decorating the Christmas tree with the kids. She is Jewish and Casandra is Christian, so their family observes the holidays for both faiths.

Kat, who will soon officially be Matteo's stepmom, stands with him at the boat's bow before it departs for a fishing trip.

David and Mateo hold a small wedding ceremony at the town clerk's office in Riverhead, N.Y. on July 10, 2014. In attendance were Mateo's mom and stepfather and one of David's oldest friends. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, David and Mateo's marriage will be recognized by the federal government. However, the marriage is still not recognized by their own state of Ohio.

Sarah and Stephanie relax in their family room.

Amy helps Lilly fix the strap on her dress before the 50th birthday party her family organized for her.

Ryan and Sarah watch videos together at their home in Philadelphia.

Sarah and Stephanie pose for photos after their wedding ceremony in New York City. In December of 2013, the couple separated. Sarah has moved back home to Missouri and Stephanie remains in Mississippi.

Nicole gets a hug from Sophia after she burned her hand while making dinner.

David and Mateo sit in their lawyer's waiting room in Athens, Ohio. Because they can't be legally married in their state, the men must have paperwork drawn up to give them similar rights to those of a married couple. Yet cases have emerged throughout the United States- and in the state of Ohio- where same-sex couples have been refused these rights in spite of their legal documentation. In particular, numerous court cases cite incidents where hospital staff refuse same-sex partners decision-making and visitation rights.

Girlfriends dress Ryan, left, and Sarah in hats made of ribbons and gift paper at their bridal shower in Cherry Hill, N.J.

David and Mateo walk in a field behind their home in Athens, Ohio. In some of the rural areas surrounding their home, they are careful about showing that they're romantic partners.