While several states allow gay marriage in the US, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage due to the Defense of Marriage Act. However, there are several countries that do recognize gay marriage.
Here is a resource page that contains information on which countries allow same-sex couples to get married. It will be updated to reflect future changes in marriage laws as they happen. For the sake of clarity, this page will only include those countries where same-sex marriage has been recognized. It will not include civil unions and other forms of legal recognition, as they will be part of a future list.
Gay Marriage in the Netherlands
The Netherlands became the first country to officially allow same-sex marriages on April 1, 2001. The bill, which widened the definition of marriage to include same-sex partners, was passed in September, 2000. The legislation also allowed same-sex couples the right to adopt. To find out more about the history of gay marriage in the Netherlands, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Belgium
On January 30, 2003, Belgium became the second country to recognize gay marriage. The change in the law granted almost all the rights open to heterosexual married couples, however it did not include the right to adopt. Legal co-parenting for Belgium’s same-sex couples came into force just over three years later in April, 2006. For more information about gay marriage in Belgium, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Spain
Despite heavy opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, the Spanish parliament passed same-sex marriage legislation on June 30, 2005. The legislation, which made Spain the third country to recognize gay marriage, also granted adoption rights for same-sex couples, however some disparities between homosexual and heterosexual marriages remained. To help remedy this, the law on assisted reproduction was amended in 2006, allowing co-parenting recognition for married lesbian partners who had used IVF treatment to have a child. For more information on gay marriage in Spain, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Canada
Although the Netherlands was the first country to legally recognize gay marriage, a joint wedding by two Canadian same-sex couples actually preceded the recognition of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, and seemed to precipitate, at least in part, full recognition of gay marriage throughout Canada some years later. Here is a little more detail about that case:
The couples involved were Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell and Anne and Elaine Vautour. The two couples had a joint marriage ceremony officiated by Rev. Brent Hawkes at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on January 14, 2001. Both couples were given a government record-of-marriage following their unions. However, Ontario officials refused to acknowledge the legality of the same-sex marriages that had been carried out that day.
After a lengthy legal battle, on July 12, 2002, a lower court ruled that the marriages were legal. This decision was affirmed in the Court of Appeal for Ontario on June 10, 2003. The Court of Appeal deemed that the exclusion of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
This decision was not appealed by Ontario’s government, and as such the couples’ unions were formally recognized as having been carried out on the aforementioned date of January 14, 2001, making it, in retrospect, a quiet landmark for same-sex marriage in Canada. The date of registration the two couples eventually received was June 11, 2003.
Similar legal victories were had in British Columbia and Quebec, and eventually in nine of Canada’s provinces, until the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2004 in Re Same-Sex Marriage that same-sex marriage had constitutional validity.
The Court compelled the Canadian federal government to enact legislation to recognize gay marriage. The Canadian legislature eventually then codified the revised definition of civil marriage in the Civil Marriage Act. The legislation received Royal Assent (and therein became law) on July 20, 2005. To find out more about the history of gay marriage in Canada, please click here.
Gay Marriage in South Africa
Almost one year after South Africa’s highest court ruled that the country’s existing definition of marriage violated its constitution’s guarantee of equal rights, gay marriages in South Africa became legal on November 30, 2006, following the South African parliament having passed a bill for same-sex marriage earlier in the month.
This made South Africa the first country in Africa to officially grant same-sex marriage, and the fifth country in the world. Same-sex adoption rights had already been affirmed in 2002. To see a brief history of the recognition of gay partnerships and how this culminated in gay marriage in South Africa, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Norway
Following a gender-neutral marriage bill that was passed by the Norwegian legislature on June 11, 2008, Norway became the sixth country to officially allow same-sex marriage on January 1, 2009. The new law also allowed co-parenting same-sex adoption rights and state funded IVF treatment for married lesbian couples. To find out more about gay marriage in Norway, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Sweden
Following a gender-neutral marriage bill being passed by the Swedish legislature in April, 2009, Sweden became the seventh country to recognize gay marriage on May 1, 2009. Sweden had previously passed a law to allow same-sex couples to adopt in June, 2002.
Notably, Sweden’s Lutheran Church voted to permit gay marriages to be carried out in its congregation from November 1, 2009. This decision was a result of a vote in which nearly 70 percent of the 250 synod members of the Church of Sweden voted in favor of the move.
In 2007 the Church had approved the recognition of gay partnerships within the congregation, but without the term “marriage” being attached. To find out more about gay marriage in Sweden, please click here.
Gay Marriage in Portugal
On January 8, 2010, Portugal’s parliament voted to approve gay marriage. The bill was passed by 125 votes to 99. A provision to allow adoption by same-sex partners was struck down.
15 June, 2010: Argentina passes legislation to legalize marriage equality. Read more here.
June 7, 2012: Denmark legalizes marriage equality. The law took effect on June 15. Read more here.
April 10, 2013: Uruguay lawmakers vote to legalize marriage equality which will come into force August 1. Read more here.
April 17, 2013: New Zealand lawmakers vote to legalize marriage equality. Read more here.
April 23, 2013: France’s National Assembly, despite bitter and violent protests, votes to legalize marriage equality. The law will come into force August 1. Read more here.
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Photo used under the Creative Commons License with thanks to Andy Birkey.