International Progress Toward the Freedom to Marry
Seventeen countries have approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain and Luxembourg), while two others have regional or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry (Mexico and the United States). Many other countries provide some protections for such couples. As more and more countries and parts of the United States win the freedom to marry, we see that families are helped, and communities and countries made stronger, by protecting all loving committed couples. Click the map to enlargen it. (Last Updated: October 2014)
Countries with the Freedom to Marry
The Netherlands: April 1, 2001
The Netherlands was the first country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in 2001, when their Parliament voted 107-33 to eliminate discrimination from their marriage laws. The law requires that at least one member of the couple be a Dutch national or live in the Netherlands, and it took effect on April 1, 2001. Anne-Marie Thus, a Dutch lesbian who married in 2001, explains, "It's really become less of something that you need to explain. We're totally ordinary. We take our children to preschool every day. People know they don't have to be afraid of us." In December 2012, the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba also established the freedom to marry.
Belgium: June 1, 2003
Belgium became the second country to legalize equal marriage on February 13, 2003, when King Albert II approved the bill, which had previously been passed by the Senate and Chamber of Representatives. Without fanfare, 91 of the 122 deputies in the Belgian Parliament voted for the change, which stipulates that only couples from countries with the freedom to marry can be married under Belgian law. Initially, gay and lesbian couples were not allowed to adopt children under the original legislation, but Parliament passed co-parenting for same-sex couples in 2006.
Spain: July 3, 2005
After the unexpected victory of the Spanish Socialist Party in 2004, the newly elected Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, moved to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in the country. Despite serious opposition from the Catholic Church, a majority of Spaniards supported the measure, and the Parliament voted 187 to 147 in favor of the freedom to marry. The law states that at least one partner must be a Spanish citizen in order to legally marry, although it also allows couples to marry if they have legal residence in Spain. Following passage and enactment in 2005, Zapatero's said: "We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven ... by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality." In July 2012, after some speculation about repealing the freedom to marry from Spain's new president, the country's Constitutional Court reaffirmed that the freedom to marry was constitutional and ruled that it could not be repealed.
Canada: July 20, 2005
On June 28, 2005, the House of Commons in Canada passed the Civil Marriage Act, which was then passed by the Senate on July 19. The Civil Marriage Act, which received Royal Assent on July 20, provided a gender-neutral definition of marriage. The national legislation passed after more than three quarters of Canadian provinces and territories legalized same-sex unions. Since marriage laws in Canada do not have residency requirements, same-sex couples who travel from the United States to Canada may also get married there. Canadian leaders adamantly supported full marriage, as opposed to civil union legislation, saying that they recognized the importance of full equality. Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Paul Martin, explained, "We've come to the realization that instituting civil unions — adopting a 'separate but equal' approach — would violate the equality provisions of the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms]. We've confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms."
South Africa: November 30, 2006
In December 2005, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the country's constitution and gave the Parliament one year to adjust laws to comply with the ruling. The court also made it clear enacting only a civil unions law would not work. On November 14, 2006, Parliament voted, 230 to 41, to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in South Africa, making the nation the first in Africa to do so.
Norway: January 1, 2009
On June 11, 2008, members of Parliament in Norway approved a gender-neutral bill that ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage by a vote of 84-41. Family Issues minister Anniken Huitfeldt noted, "The new law won't weaken marriage as an institution. Rather, it will strengthen it. Marriage won't be worth less because more can take part in it." The Scandinavian country had already allowed gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil partnerships but realized that such partnerships did not provide equality. The law was backed by the ruling red-green coalition of the Labour Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party, as well as members of the opposition Conservatives and Liberals. Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen, also finance minister, said the bill was for "equal rights" and against all forms of discrimination.
Sweden: May 1, 2009
On April 1, 2009, a broad majority of the Swedish Parliament voted in support of a bill to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. The proposal was approved by a 261 to 22 vote, with 16 abstentions. The new legislation took effect as of May 1, 2009, replacing the legislation approved in 1995 that allowed gay couples to form a union in Sweden via registered partnership. Couples who have registered partnership can keep that status or amend it to a marriage by an application to the authorities. On October 22, 2009, the Church of Sweden's board voted to allow priests to wed same-sex couples using the term "marriage."
Portugal: June 5, 2010
On May 18, 2010, Portugal's President ratified a law that was passed in January 2010 by Portugal's parliament to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. The law was upheld as constitutional by the Portuguese Constitutional Court in April and was officially published in the official gazette of Portugal on May 31 and took effect a few days later.
Iceland: June 27, 2010
On June 11, 2010, Iceland’s parliament unanimously voted, 49 to 0, to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. The Althingi parliament voted to add the words “man and man, woman and woman” to the country’s existing marriage legislation. In 2009, the country became the first in the world to elect an openly gay head of state, when Johanna Sigurdardottir became the prime minister. Iceland is the seventh country in Europe to uphold the freedom to marry, and ninth in the world.
Argentina: July 22, 2010
On July 15, 2010 Argentina became the first country in Latin America to uphold the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. The legislation was approved by a 33 to 27 vote, with 3 abstentions by the Argentine National Congress. It gives same-sex couples the same rights and protections as different-sex couples, including the ability to adopt. The law was backed by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who signed the measure into law on July 21, 2010.
Denmark: June 15,2012
On June 7, 1989, Denmark passed a first-of-its-kind law allowing same-sex couples to receive the same legal and fiscal rights provided by marriage through registered partnerships (with the exception of laws making explicit references to the sexes of married couples and regulations of international treaties). On January 18, 2012, the government of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt introduced a gender-neutral marriage bill that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples through civil registry or the Church of Denmark. The bill passed by a vote of 85-24 on June 7, 2012 and took effect on June 15, 2012.
Brazil: May 14, 2013
On May 14, 2013, the National Council of Justice in Brazil ruled that government offices that issue marriage licenses have no standing to reject same-sex couples from marriage. Since 2011, federal marriage laws in Brazil have been somewhat confusing: On May 5, 2011, the Supreme Federal Court voted to allow same-sex couples nationwide many of the legal rights as married couples (through a mechanism called "stable union"), and since June 2011, same-sex couples joined together in "stable union" may petition judges to convert their union into a marriage. The two-step process to being married can be performed across Brazil, and in recent months, many jurisdictions have ordered a final end to the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Before the May 2013 ruling, 14 of Brazil's 27 jurisdictions had passed the freedom to marry.
France: May 29, 2013
On April 23, 2013, the National Assembly in France took a final vote to approve the freedom to marry. The following month, on May 18, French President François Hollande signed the bill into law. The bill passed with overwhelming support in both houses - by a 331-225 final vote in the Assembly and 179-157 final vote in the Senate. The first wedding occurred in Monpellier, between Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau.
Uruguay: August 5, 2013
On April 10, the lower House of the Uruguayan legislature approved a bill to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, marking the final vote in the process of ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage across the country. President José Mujica signed the bill on May 3, and Uruugay became the third country in Latin America to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage nationwide when the law took effect on August 5.
New Zealand: August 19, 2013
On April 17, the Parliament in New Zealand took a final vote to approve a bill to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. The Parliament previously cleared the bill on August 29, 2012 and March 12, 2013. Prime Minister John Key vocally supported the freedom to marry throughout the national conversation on why marriage matters. The first weddings between same-sex couples took place on August 19.
United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland)
On July 17, 2013, the Queen of England granted royal assent to a bill extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in England. The final approval came after the British House of Commons and House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation multiple times. Same-sex couples in England and Wales were able to begin marrying on March 29, 2014. In the fall of 2013, on November 20, a marriage bill also passed Stage 1 of the process in Scotland, with a final debate and vote approving the bill for good on February 4, 2014. The first marriages in Scotland will take place on December 31, 2014.
Luxembourg: June 18, 2014
On June 18, 2014, the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies approved a bill that will extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in Luxembourg by an overwhelming vote of 56 to 4. A final vote, largely seen as a formality, will be held shortly, and the bill takes place six months after the final vote - which could be as soon as January 2015.
Countries with Regional Freedom to Marry
The United States
Individual states in the United States have been left to decide their own marriage laws. On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to provide the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. Since then, 30 states and the District of Columbia have also passed their own freedom to marry laws, with the path to the freedom to marry paved in an additional 5. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to prohibit the federal government from respecting legal marriages between same-sex couples.
On March 4, 2010 Mexico City's Legislative Assembly voted 39-20 to uphold the freedom to marry for same-sex couples on December 21, 2009. The law defines marriage as "the free uniting of two people." The bill also legalizes adoption by gay couples. In August 2010, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the law honoring the freedom to marry in Mexico City is constitutional and all states must honor same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. In May 2012, after dealing with a civil code that did not specifically state gender requirements for marriage, the state of Quintana Roo declared that all marriages between same-sex couples would be legal. In December 2012, the Mexican Supreme Court declared that the Oaxaca civil code restricting marriage to different-sex couples is unconstitutional. Because of Mexican law, the ruling currently only applies to the three couples who filed the suit. If the court rules the same way in two additional cases, binding national precedent is set in Mexico, and all other jurisdictions in the country will have the freedom to marry.
Countries Taking Steps Toward Marriage
In Australia, when couples - including same-sex couples - have lived together for more than two years, they achieve "De Facto" status, which extends many of the proections and responsibilities that marriage provides. Several states in Australia - Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and ACT - have created lesser mechanisms of family status, called either "relationship register" or 'civil partnership." Australian Marriage Equality is currently leading the charge to win the freedom to marry in Australia. In December 2013, the first same-sex couples married in the ACT, but a court ruling overturned the freedom to marry and invalidated those marriages.
In late July 2011, the national Colombian Court ruled that the Colombian Congress must pass marriage or an equal alternative for same-sex couples before June 20, 2013, or else the Court would automatically allow any judge or notary to formalize a marriage between same-sex couples. In December 2012, a committee in the Colombian Senate approved a measure by a 10-5 vote to extend the freedom to marry, but in April 2013, the freedom to marry was not approved. As such, soon, same-sex couples in the state will be able to register their unions in court. Learn more about the complicated process behind registered relationships in Colombia HERE.
Countries with Other Forms of Relationship Recognition for Same-Sex Couples
Broad Protections for Same-Sex Couple
Countries that offer many rights to same-sex couples but stop short of marriage include Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Ireland, and Scotland.
Limited Protections for Same-Sex Couples
Countries that offer some spousal rights to same-sex couples, which are far from full marriage, include Andorra, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Switzerland.
Marriages Between Same-Sex Couples Recognized, but Not Performed
Countries that only recognize marriages between same-sex couples performed in other countries include Israel and Mexico.