May 24 marked the first day that gay and lesbian couples in Taiwan can register to marry. While the new legislation guaranteeing that right is far from perfect – for example, it doesn’t allow a Taiwanese person to marry a same-sex national of another country where same-sex marriage is not legal – it is the first legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in any Asian country.
While heterosexual couples enjoy the right to marry, adopt children, and receive their partners’ pension benefits after death, homosexual couples in many countries face discrimination in all of these categories.
To compile the countries where same-sex marriage is officially legal, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed dozens of news articles and information from Pew Research Center. Countries where same-sex marriage is legal in some areas but not nationwide were excluded.
To date, only 29 out of the 195 countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage. While many same-sex couples have no choice but to wait for legalization – some are together for decades before they are finally able to marry – in many countries, people who can choose to get married are doing so later in life.
Opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage often comes from religious organizations who claim that it destroys the sanctity of marriage. However, a U.S. study has shown that heterosexual couples divorce at higher rates than homosexual couples, with some states having lower divorce rates than others, and within each state, places where more people are getting divorced.
• Date legalized: April 1, 2001
Change came gradually in the Netherlands – the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. In 1998 many of the marriage-related privileges allowed to heterosexual couples were extended to same-sex couples. Then in December 2000, despite opposition from the country’s Christian Democratic Party, legislation passed that expanded the definition of marriage to include people of the same sex. This allowed same-sex couples to marry, divorce, and adopt children. Finally on April 1, 2001, four same-sex couples married, followed by another 382 that month.
• Date legalized: June 1, 2003
Same-sex couples in Belgium began receiving recognition through registered partnerships in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Parliament legalized same-sex marriage. This gave same-sex couples in Belgium the right to marry – which granted them the tax rights that heterosexual couples already enjoyed – and also officially recognized the status of same-sex couples who married in other countries. In 2006 same-sex couples were given the right to adopt children.
• Date legalized: July 3, 2005
Despite strong opposition from conservative leaders and the Roman Catholic Church, the Spanish Parliament legalized same-sex marriage in a vote of 187 to 147. This granted same-sex couples inheritance, adoption, and divorce rights. The country’s Socialist Prime Minister at the time, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, proposed the bill shortly after his election in 2004.
• Date legalized: July 20, 2005
Although the federal government of Canada extended common law marriage rights to same-sex couples in 1999, it wasn’t until 2005 that the Canadian Parliament legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. When Canada’s ruling Conservative Party attempted to re-open the debate in 2006, Parliament voted against the motion.
5. South Africa
• Date legalized: Nov. 30, 2006
In November 2005, South Africa’s highest court ruled that the country’s marriage statutes were in violation of the Constitution’s equal rights protections and gave the government one year to amend the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. On Nov. 14, 2006, two weeks before the deadline, Parliament voted to remove restrictions to gay marriage in an overwhelming majority vote of 230 to 41.
• Date legalized: Jan. 1, 2009
In 1993, same-sex couples in Norway were granted the right to civil unions. Fifteen years later, the government replaced this ruling with a new law allowing same-sex couples to marry, adopt children, and undergo state-funded artificial insemination. The law went into effect the first day of 2009. In 2017, the Lutheran Church of Norway, to which nearly three quarters of Norwegians belong, adopted gender-neutral wording that would allow its pastors to conduct same-sex marriages.
• Date legalized: May 1, 2009
Same-sex couples in Sweden could register for civil unions as early as 1995, but in April 2009 the Swedish Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage in both religious and civil ceremonies. Though the law does not require churches to officiate, the Lutheran Church of Sweden voted in October 2009 to allow its clergy to conduct same-sex marriages. Adoption rights had already been granted to same-sex couples in 2003, as well as artificial insemination rights in 2005.
• Date legalized: June 5, 2010
The Portuguese Parliament passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in early 2010. After review by the Constitutional Court, the law was signed in May and went into effect in June 2010. The law did not grant adoption rights to same-sex couples, however, and it wasn’t until 2015 – after four rounds of parliamentary votes – that a law allowing adoption was passed. The law also improved access to artificial insemination.
• Date legalized: June 27, 2010
The vote to apply gender-neutral language to Iceland’s definition of marriage passed unanimously in Parliament in June 2010. The country’s Prime Minister at the time, Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir, was the first openly gay head of state in the world, and soon after the bill passed she married her long-time partner in one of the first same-sex marriages in Iceland.
• Date legalized: July 22, 2010
After hours of debate, Argentina’s Senate narrowly passed a bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry, making it the first country in Latin America to do so. The bill also granted the right to adopt children. The Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches vehemently protested the bill.
• Date legalized: June 15, 2012
Denmark, the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples the right to register as domestic partners (in 1989), began allowing registered same-sex couples to adopt children in 2010. Then in 2012 the country finally legalized same-sex marriage. While the law mandates that the state church – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark – allow same-sex couples to marry, it does not require clergy to perform the marriages.
• Date legalized: May 16, 2013
Since 2011, Brazil has recognized same-sex civil unions and granted those couples many of the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including adoption, inheritance, and pension benefits. In 2013, with nearly half the states in Brazil already recognizing same-sex marriages, the country made them legal nationwide.
• Date legalized: May 18, 2013
After an unsuccessful court challenge by the Conservative Party, France’s highest court ruled in favor of a bill allowing same-sex marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples in May 2013. The bill was pushed through by President Francois Hollande, who was elected a year earlier, and his Socialist Party.
14 and 15. England and Wales
• Date legalized: March 29, 2014
Months of debate ended in the British Parliament when a same-sex marriage bill passed in July 2013 and was ratified by the Queen the next day. The law took effect March 29, 2014, when the first same-sex marriages occurred in England. The law, which applies to England and Wales, does not allow for same-sex marriages within the Church of England.
• Date legalized: Aug. 5, 2013
Uruguay became the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage when the president signed a bill into law on May 3, 2013, though it didn’t take effect until Aug. 5 of that year. Civil unions between gay and lesbian couples had been legal since 2008, and adoption rights were granted in 2009.
17. New Zealand
• Date legalized: Aug. 19, 2013
On April 17, 2013, New Zealand passed an amendment to the Marriage Act of 1955 which updated the definition of marriage to “the union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” as well as amendments to other bills such as an adoption rights bill, to ensure that same-sex couples would have the same rights as heterosexual couples. The changes took effect in August of that year.
• Date legalized: Dec. 16, 2014
Amidst protests by the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in February 2014. The legislation, which went into effect in December 2014, left it up to churches to decide whether or not they would conduct the marriages. The Scottish Episcopal Church decided to perform same-sex marriages in 2017, and the next year the Church of Scotland voted to draft new laws allowing its pastors to conduct the marriages as well. The laws aren’t due for final review until 2021.
• Date legalized: Jan. 1, 2015
On June 18, 2014, in the first major reform of the country’s marriage laws since 1804, Luxembourg’s Chamber of Deputies approved a bill allowing same-sex couples to both marry and adopt children. The bill went into effect on Jan. 1 the next year. Luxembourg’s first openly gay Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, took advantage of the laws he helped champion and married his partner that same year.
• Date legalized: Oct. 1, 2015
Greenland, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, was not subject to Denmark’s marriage law update in 2012. However, the country’s parliament, the Inatsisartut, voted unanimously to legalize same-sex marriage on May 26, 2015. The bill, which also granted adoption rights, went into effect Oct. 1, 2015.
21. United States
• Date legalized: June 26, 2015
While 36 states had already legalized same-sex marriage, a ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 2015 finally guaranteed the right at the federal level. The court determined that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was in violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protections.
• Date legalized: Nov. 16, 2015
After 62% of Irish voters (1.2 million people) voted in favor of updating the definition of marriage to include gender-neutral terminology, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote.
• Date legalized: April 28, 2016
In a court ruling stating that marriages by people of the same sex don’t violate the constitution, Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in April 2016. Previous court appeals against equal rights had led to legal grey areas and officials refusing to register same-sex marriages, but on April 7, when the constitutional court dismissed a petition against equal rights, the precedent was set.
• Date legalized: March 1, 2017
Finland’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which was approved by Parliament in 2014, started out as a public petition with over 160,000 signatures. Finland’s president signed the bill in 2015 but it didn’t go into effect until March 2017, making Finland the last of the Nordic countries to legalize.
• Date legalized: Sept. 1, 2017
Malta, a small Catholic nation that was the first country in Europe to ban gay conversion therapy, legalized same-sex marriage in 2017. With the adoption of gender-neutral terminology in amendments to the country’s Marriage Act, Malta also granted adoption rights to same-sex couples.
• Date legalized: Oct. 1, 2017
A few days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel rescinded her opposition to a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, a majority vote passed legislation that did just that. Though Merkel still publicly opposed same-sex marriage, a study by Germany’s anti-discrimination agency determined that 83% of Germans were in favor of legalizing.
• Date legalized: Dec. 7, 2017
Three weeks after a nationwide referendum determined that 62% of Australians supported marriage equality, Australia’s Parliament passed a bill that legalized same-sex marriage. Churches are not required to perform the marriages, but service industry workers such as florists and bakers will be in violation of anti-discrimination laws if they refuse service to same-sex couples.
• Date legalized: Jan. 1, 2019
From 2010, gay and lesbian couples in Austria could form civil partnerships, but a 2017 court decision ruled that civil partnerships were discriminatory. The court stated that if the country failed to pass legislation countering same-sex marriage, it would become legal Jan. 1, 2019. The first same-sex marriage took place shortly after midnight that day.
• Date legalized: May 17, 2019
A 2017 Constitutional Court decision declared that Taiwan’s marriage definition needed to be updated to include same-sex couples. The court gave the government until May 24, 2019, to change the law. On May 17, 2019, the legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to do so.
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