Although same-sex marriage has been a controversial topic around the globe, the number of countries that allow gay and lesbian couples to marry has been increasing rapidly in recent years. So far, 16 countries have legalized gay marriage. While same-sex marriage is not legal in the United States or Mexico, some jurisdictions do allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
The Netherlands – 2000
In December 2000, the Dutch parliament passed a landmark same-sex marriage bill by a three to one margin. The only parliamentary opposition came from the Christian Democratic Party. This law gave same-sex couples the right to marry and divorce. It also gave gay couples the right to adopt children.
Belgium – 2003
As early as 1998, the Belgian parliament offered limited partnerships, which granted limited rights to same-sex couples. In 2003, the parliament legalized same-sex marriage, granting gay and lesbian couples the same tax and inheritance rights as straight couples. The law also recognized same-sex married couples from jurisdictions in which gay marriage was legal. In 2005, the parliament granted gay couples the right to adopt children.
Spain – 2005
After much debate, the Spanish parliament legalized gay marriage on July 3, 2005. The new law offered same-sex spouses the same rights as heterosexual spouses. The Catholic Spanish Bishops Conference and Vatican officials strongly opposed the law. After the law took effect, the constitutional court rejected challenges from two municipal court judges who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples.
Canada – 2005
Canada offered same-sex couples many of the legal benefits of marriage in 1999 when the federal and provincial governments allowed gay and lesbian couples to enjoy common law marriage. Gay marriage gradually became legal in nine Canadian provinces. In 2005, the Canadian parliament passed a law to make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country.
South Africa – 2006
One year after South Africa’s highest court ruled that the country’s marriage laws violated the constitutional guarantee of equal rights, the South African parliament legalized same-sex marriage. The new law, which passed in November 2006, does not require civil officers or religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Norway – 2009
Same-sex couples in Norway have been legally allowed to marry, adopt children and pursue artificial insemination since January 2009. This law, which replaced a 1993 law that allowed civil unions, passed despite significant public, political and religious resistance. The leaders of the Church of Norway voted to prohibit its clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies, although they are allowed to bless the unions.
Sweden – 2009
In April 2009, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly voted to legalize same-sex marriage. While the law allows gay couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies, clergy are not required to officiate at the ceremonies. In 2009, the Church of Sweden’s governing board voted to allow its clergy to officiate at gay wedding ceremonies.
Portugal – 2010
Portugal legalized gay marriage on June 5, 2010. While the parliament had passed a measure legalizing same-sex marriage earlier that year, the measure was challenged by Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva. After the Constitutional Court upheld its constitutionality, Silva signed the measure into law. The law does not grant same-sex couples the right to adopt children.
Iceland – 2010
Iceland has allowed gay couples to register as domestic partners since 1996. In 2006, the parliament made it legal for same-sex couples to adopt children. In June 2010, the Icelandic legislature passed a measure legalizing gay marriage. Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir became one of the first people to marry under the new law when she wed her longtime partner.
Argentina – 2010
In July 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to allow same-sex marriage. Even though the measure was hotly opposed by the Catholic Church and Protestant churches, it passed both houses of the legislature. The law grants same-sex couples the same rights and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Denmark – 2012
In 1989, Denmark became the first country to allow gay couples to enter domestic partnerships. In 2010, Denmark enacted a law that allowed gay couples in domestic partnerships to adopt children. Denmark’s legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in June 2012. It became law days later when Queen Margrethe II gave her royal assent to the bill.
Brazil – 2013
On May 14, 2013, Brazil’s National Council of Justice held that gay couples should not be denied marriage licenses. Before this decision, nearly half of Brazil’s jurisdictions allowed gay marriage. It is important to note that the Social Christian Party has appealed this decision to the country’s Supreme Court, so the future of same-sex marriage in Brazil is uncertain.
France – 2013
On May 18, 2013, France became the 14th country to grant gay couples the right to marry after President Francois Hollande signed the bill into law. In May 2012, Hollande was elected as the president of France. As promised during the campaign, Hollande and the Socialist Party pushed through a law that not only gives gay couples the right to marry, but also gives them the right to adopt children.
Uruguay – 2013
In April 2013, Uruguay’s legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. On May 3, 2013, President Jose Mujica signed the bill into law. Civil unions have been allowed in the country since 2008 and same-sex couples were granted the right to adopt children in 2009.
New Zealand – 2013
In 2005, New Zealand passed legislation that would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions. On April 17, 2013, the country’s parliament passed a measure to legalize gay marriage. The measure was approved by a 77-44 margin and was supported by Prime Minister John Key. The law, which also allows gay couples to adopt children, took effect in August 2013.
England and Wales – 2013
On July 17, 2013, Queen Elizabeth II gave royal assent to a bill that legalized same-sex marriage in England and Wales, one day after the measure was passed by the British Parliament. This new law will allow same-sex couples to marry by 2014.