Updated May 15, 2013
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A growing number of governments around the world are considering whether to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages. More than a dozen countries currently have national laws allowing gays and lesbians to marry, mostly in Europe and the Americas. In three other countries, including the United States, some jurisdictions allow same-sex couples to wed, while others do not.
The following is a list of nations that allow same-sex marriage, either nationwide or in certain jurisdictions.
Countries That Allow Gay Marriage
Countries Where Gay Marriage is Legal in Some Jurisdictions
Countries That Allow Gay Marriage
On April 23, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, making France the 14th country to grant gays and lesbians the right to wed. The measure, which was approved by the Senate on April 12, now goes to President François Hollande, who has vowed to sign it. Barring a surprise, same-sex marriages could be performed in France as early as June.
In May 2012, Hollande was elected and his Socialist Party won majorities in both houses of France’s legislature. True to their campaign promises, Hollande and the Socialists have pushed through a bill that not only legalizes same-sex marriage but also gives gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt children—a provision that has drawn especially strong criticism from French Catholic leaders.
While recent polls show that nearly two-thirds of French adults support legalizing same-sex marriage, opposition to the change has been intense. Since the beginning of 2013, several anti-gay marriage protests with occasionally volatile crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands have taken place in Paris and elsewhere. Indeed, concerns about the possibility of violent protests surrounding the final vote prompted French authorities to deploy riot police outside the National Assembly.
New Zealand (2013)
On April 17, the New Zealand Parliament gave final approval to a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage, making the Pacific island nation the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to allow gays and lesbians to wed. The measure won approval by a 77-44 margin in the country’s unicameral legislature, including support from Prime Minister John Key, and was signed by the country’s governor-general (a process known as royal assent) on April 19. The bill will take effect in August 2013.
In 2005, New Zealand enacted legislation allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The 2013 measure not only legalizes same-sex marriage but also allows for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.
On April 10, the lower house of Uruguay’s Congress passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, a week after the country’s Senate did so. President José Mujica signed the bill into law on May 3, making Uruguay the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, following Argentina. Civil unions have been permitted in Uruguay since 2008, and gay and lesbian couples were given adoption rights in 2009.
Uruguay is among the most secular countries in Latin America. A Pew Research Center study on the global religious landscape as of 2010 found that roughly four-in-ten Uruguayans are unaffiliated with a particular religion. About 58 percent of Uruguayans are Christian; in the Latin America-Caribbean region as a whole, 90 percent of the population is Christian.
In June 2012, Denmark’s legislature passed a bill
legalizing gay marriage. The measure was enacted into law a few days later when
Queen Margrethe II gave her royal assent to the bill.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country to
allow same-sex couples to register as domestic partners. And in 2010, the
country enacted a law allowing gay couples in registered partnerships the right
to adopt children.
With the legalization of gay marriage, the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (which is the state church), is required
to allow same-sex couples to marry in churches. However, no member of the
church’s clergy is required to perform the wedding of a gay or lesbian couple.
In addition, the law leaves it up to other religious groups to determine
whether or not to allow same-sex weddings in its churches.
In July 2010, Argentina became the first country
in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. In spite of vigorous opposition
from the Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant churches, the measure
passed both houses of the Argentine legislature and was signed into law by President
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The law grants same-sex couples who marry all
the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by heterosexual couples, including the
right to adopt children.
In the decade before the enactment of the
same-sex marriage law, a number of local jurisdictions, including the nation’s
capital, Buenos Aires, had enacted laws allowing gays and lesbians to enter
into civil unions.
In June 2010, Portugal became the eighth country
to legalize same-sex marriage. Its parliament had passed the measure legalizing
gay marriage earlier in 2010. But following its passage, Portugal’s president, Anibal
Cavaco Silva, asked the Constitutional Court to review the measure. In April
2010, the Constitutional Court declared the law to be constitutionally valid. It
was signed by Silva in May of that year and took effect one month later. Portugal’s
gay marriage law does not give married same-sex couples the right to adopt
A measure legalizing same-sex marriage passed
the Icelandic legislature in June 2010. Public opinion polls prior to the vote
indicated broad support for the measure, and no members of the country’s
legislature voted against it. Iceland had allowed same-sex couples to register
as domestic partners since 1996. A decade later, the parliament passed a
measure allowing gay couples to adopt children.
After the new law took effect in late June 2010,
the country’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, wed her longtime partner,
Jonina Leosdottir, becoming one of the first people to marry under the statute.
In April 2009, the Swedish parliament voted by
an overwhelming majority to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay couples in Sweden
had been allowed to register for civil unions since 1995.
The 2009 law allows gays and lesbians to marry
in both religious and civil ceremonies, but it does not require clergy to
officiate at such ceremonies. The Lutheran-affiliated Church of Sweden, to
which roughly three-quarters of all Swedes belong, has offered blessings for
same-sex partnerships since January 2007. In October 2009, the church’s
governing board voted to allow its clergy to officiate at same-sex marriage
Since January 2009, gay couples in Norway
legally have been able to marry, adopt children and undergo artificial
insemination. The new law replaced a 1993 law permitting civil unions. The 2009
law was passed despite resistance from members of the Christian Democratic
Party and the Progress Party, as well as a public controversy over state
funding for fertility treatments for lesbian couples.
The largest religious group in the country, the
Lutheran-affiliated Church of Norway, was split over the issue. Following
passage of the new law, the church's leaders voted to prohibit its pastors from
conducting same-sex weddings. But the Church of Norway does allow clergy to
bless same-sex unions.
South Africa (2006)
The South African parliament legalized same-sex
marriage in November 2006, one year after the country's highest court ruled
that the previous marriage laws violated the South African constitution's
guarantee of equal rights. The new law allows for religious institutions and
civil officers to refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, a provision
that critics claim violates the rights of same-sex couples under the
The new measure passed by a margin of greater
than five-to-one, with support coming from both the governing African National
Congress as well as the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
However, the traditional monarch of the Zulu people, who account for about
one-fifth of the country's population, maintains that homosexuality is morally
A closely divided Spanish parliament legalized
same-sex marriage in 2005, guaranteeing identical rights to all married couples
regardless of sexual orientation. The new measure added language to the
existing marriage statute, which now reads, "Marriage will have the same
requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of
the same sex or of different sexes."
Vatican officials, as well as the Catholic
Spanish Bishops Conference, strongly criticized the law, and large crowds
demonstrated in Madrid for and against the measure. After the law went into
effect, the country's constitutional court rejected challenges from two
municipal court judges who had refused marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The high court ruled that the lower court judges lacked legal standing to bring
Same-sex couples in Canada gained most of the
legal benefits of marriage in 1999 when the federal and provincial governments
extended common law marriages to gay and lesbian couples. Through a series of
court cases beginning in 2003, same-sex marriage gradually became legal in nine
of the country's 13 provinces and territories. In 2005, the Canadian Parliament
passed legislation making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. In 2006,
lawmakers defeated an effort by the ruling Conservative Party of Canada to
reconsider the issue, leaving the law unchanged.
Beginning in 1998, the Belgian parliament
offered limited rights to same-sex couples through registered partnerships.
Same-sex couples could register with a city clerk and formally assume joint
responsibility for a household. Five years later, in January 2003, the Belgian
parliament legalized same-sex marriage, giving gay and lesbian couples the same
tax and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples.
Support for the law came from both the
Flemish-speaking North and the French-speaking South, and the law generated
surprisingly little controversy across the country. The long-dominant Christian
Democratic Party, traditionally allied with the Catholic Church, was out of
power when the parliament passed the measure.
The 2003 law allowed the marriages of Belgian
same-sex couples and recognized as married those from other countries where
same-sex marriage was legal. Those provisions were broadened in 2004 to allow
any same-sex couple to marry as long as one member of the couple had lived in
Belgium for at least three months. In 2006, the parliament also granted
same-sex partners the right to adopt children.
The Netherlands (2000)
In December 2000, the Netherlands became the
first country to legalize same-sex marriage when the Dutch parliament passed,
by a three-to-one margin, a landmark bill allowing the practice. The legislation
gave same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce and adopt children. The
legislation altered a single sentence in the existing civil marriage statute,
which now reads, "A marriage can be contracted by two people of different
or the same sex."
The only opposition in parliament came from the
Christian Democratic Party, which at the time was not part of the governing
coalition. After the law went into effect, the Protestant Church in the
Netherlands, which then represented about 12% of the country's population,
announced that individual congregations could decide whether to conduct
same-sex marriage ceremonies. Although Muslim and conservative Christian groups
continue to oppose the law, same-sex marriage is widely accepted by the Dutch
Gay Marriage is Legal in Some Jurisdictions
In 2011, the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled in favor of government recognition of same-sex civil unions. Several states in the country have since approved full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, with Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul bringing the tally to 10 (of a total of 27) jurisdictions earlier this year.
In December 2009, the government of Mexico City
legalized same-sex marriage within its jurisdiction. The decision was
challenged in court, but the law was upheld by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which in
August 2010 ruled that same-sex marriages performed in Mexico City were valid
and that they must be accepted throughout the country. Since 2011, the southern
Mexican state of Quintana Roo also has allowed gay marriages.
United States (2003)
Same-sex marriages were first made legal in the U.S. in Massachusetts in 2003, when the state’s highest court ruled that the Massachusetts Constitution gives gays and lesbians the right to marry. Now, laws legalizing same-sex marriage are or soon will be in effect in 11 other states – Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – and the District of Columbia, with court decisions, legislative action or statewide referendums prompting the changes. Legislatures in other states, including Illinois and Nevada, are in the midst of debates in 2013 over whether to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. In addition, the Supreme Court in 2013 will rule on two important same-sex marriage cases, opening the possibility of national change. (View each state's policy on same-sex marriage as a map)
This fact sheet was
compiled by Senior Researcher David Masci, Research Analyst Elizabeth Sciupac,
and former Research Assistants Hope Lozano-Bielat and Michelle Ralston.
Photo Credit: © Corbis