The First Countries to Legalize Gay Marriage

Same-sex Dutch couples were among the first to have their marriages officially recognized at the national level.
Same-sex Dutch couples were among the first to have their marriages officially recognized at the national level.

To some, same-sex marriage is considered immoral, while to others it is viewed as a basic, or even God-given, right. Regardless of one's stance, it cannot be argued that, for the same-sex couples living in the countries listed below, they must have considered their respective nations' passing through of legislation allowing them to be married, and those marriages to be fully recognized to be nothing short of a personal and national victory.

10. Argentina (July 2010)

In July of 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriages, attributing Argentine gay people the same marital rights as the nation's heterosexuals. A long and taxing national debate preceded the decision, with the Senate finally voting 33 to 27 in favor of the law. One of the leading proponents of same-sex marriages was the President of the country, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who constantly fought for recognition of the rights of the homosexuals, though against the will of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church bore an extremely bitter attitude regarding this decision, and held massive protests across the country to derail the change. However, the success of the President and her allied advocates in support of same-sex marriages in Argentina reveals the increasing willingness of the country to stand against the rigid measures of the Church. This is despite there being no clear separation of the church from state in this country.

9. Iceland (June 2010)

Iceland, a country well known for its liberal attitude towards same sex partners, passed a law on June 27, 2010, that allowed same-sex couples to legally marry. The country, then headed by a Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who openly declared herself to be gay, met little political resistance in passing this law. A vote ratio of 49 to 0 in favor of including ‘man and man’ and ‘woman and woman’ unions into the marriage legislation proves this fact. Currently, Iceland is regarded as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, with a large number of foreign same-sex couples visiting Iceland to get married there. This choice is fueled not just by the fact that same-sex marriages are legalized in the country, but also because the Icelandic society in general is highly progressive, and largely accepts such marriages without any resistance.

8. Portugal (June 2010)

There is a long story lying behind the legalization of same-sex marriages in Portugal. A lesbian couple, Teresa Pires and Helena Paixão, appealed for a marriage license in 2006, which was then completely rejected. They took the issue to court, claiming they were unjustly discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation, which was not legal as per the 1976 Portuguese constitution. When the lower courts rejected their motion, they appealed to the Portuguese Constitutional Court in July of 2007. The court decided on the basis of a 3-2 vote that, though the constitution does not legalize same sex marriages, it also does not oppose it. The complicated case of the couple now had to be handled by the Portuguese Parliament. While this case was being processed, major political changes were taking place place in the scenario of same-sex marriages in the country. The newly re-elected Prime Minsiter, José Sócrates, with the support of the Socialist Party and Left Bloc, proposed an amendment to the Family Code to render the definition of marriage gender-neutral. Finally, on June 5, 2010, same-sex marriages were legalized in Portugal in spite of protests by the Catholic Church of the country. Then, on June 7, 2010, Teresa Pires and Helena Paixão united in matrimony, becoming the first same sex couple to marry in the country. Full recognition of rights to same-sex couples, however, was not given until 5 years later. Then in 2015, the Parliament passed another law making adoption by same-sex couples legal.

7. Sweden (May 2009)

Like other Scandinavian countries, the Swedish community has always been progressive in its social attitudes, and has openly accepted same-sex couples. Sweden was thus one of the first few countries to designate legally recognized partnership rights to gay couples in the mid 1990s, and also allowed such couples to adopt children as early as 2002. However, the major step of legalizing same-sex marriages in the country was taken in 2009, when a large majority of the Swedish Parliament (226:22) voted in favor of the law. Although six out of the seven parties represented in the Parliament voted in favor, the Christian Democrats refused to support the law. The Lutheran Church of Sweden had agreed to bless gay partnerships since 2007, but were not yet ready to allow gay weddings in their churches. Individual pastors, meanwhile, were given freedom to refuse or allow such weddings in their respective churches.

6. Norway (January 2009)

On June 17, 2008, the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting, approved a law that allowed same sex couples to enjoy the same matrimonial rights as heterosexual couples. This law thus allowed gay partners to marry in civil or religious ceremonies, to adopt children, and to partake in artificial insemination. The law was implemented on the coming New Year, January 1, 2009. The country’s upper house of parliament cast a vote of 23-17 in favor of the law, replacing the 1993 legislation that allowed same-sex partners to enter civil unions, but did not allow church weddings and adoption. The Church of Norway was split on this issue of gay marriage legalization in 2013, but, in 2015, the General Synod of the Church of Norway voted in favor of offering services to same sex marriage ceremonies. Still, the Curch of Norway allowed its individual congregations to accept or refuse such requests from same-sex couples.

5. South Africa (November 2006)

On December 1, 2006, South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriages. On November 14, the parliamentarians of the country voted in favor of the Civil Union Bill favoring same-sex marriages, and effectively passing it as a law. The story behind this historic decision dates back to 2002. That year, a lesbian couple, Marié Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys, appealed to the Pretoria High Court to have their union recognized as a legal marriage. Even though their appeal was rejected at first, finally the court ruled that the existing legal definition of marriage led to gender discrimination, which was against the constitutional rights of the people. Hence, the need for a constitutional amendment arose, which led to its drafting, and the ultimate Cabinet approval of the Civil Union Bill in August of 2006. Despite protests by thousands of South Africans in September of that same year, the Bill was finally passed by the South African parliament, leading to a victory for same-sex couples in the country.

4. Canada (July 2005)

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada made it possible for same-sex couples to enjoy some of the financial and legal benefits associated with marriage. However, legal recognition of same-sex marriages were nowhere to be seen in this picture. The stance on such marriages also varied from province to province in the country, since most laws affecting couples were handled by provincial jurisdiction. However, the gradual shift in the attitudes of the Canadian community in favor of same sex marriages, and recent court rulings in the provinces of Canada supporting such unions, led the Parliament of Canada to rethink their stance on this important issue. After months of debates, refusals, and readings, finally Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, was amended to make provisions for legalization of Canadian same-sex marriages. This was passed by the Parliament on June 28, 2005, and then moved to the Senate, which also passed the Bill on July 19, 2005. After the Bill received Royal Assent on July 20, 2005, it finally became active, giving gay couples the opportunity to rejoice.

3. Spain (July 2005)

In July of 2015, Spain celebrated its ten year anniversary of the legalization of gay marriages therein. The country was the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on a national level. The attempt to legalize such marriages was made as early as 2004 by the country’s then newly elected Socialist government. The parliament and senate of Spain passed the law on June 30, 2005, and it came into effect on July 3, 2005. The first same-sex marriage in Spain took place on July 11, involving the gay couple of Emilio Menéndez and Carlos Baturín. Even though the Roman Catholic Church actively protested against this law, a vast 66% majority of the country’s population, despite being known to bear a traditionalistic attitude, supported the law. Over the next 10 years to follow, around 31,610 same-sex marriages took place in Spain, rendering Spain as one the best countries for gay rights.

2. Belgium (June 2003)

On June 1, 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same sex marriages. Following years of heated debates and significant protests by Belgian gay-rights organizations, coupled with the rising acceptance of gay rights among the Belgian community, the bill legalizing gay marriages were finally approved by 91 of the 122 deputies of the Belgian Parliament’s lower house. Despite this reformatory decision by the government, and though the law granted same-sex couples there similar privileges that are enjoyed by heterosexual couples, the right to adoption by these couples was denied. It was two years later that such came to fruition, when in 2005 a new bill was passed, granting gay couples the right to adopt children.

1. The Netherlands (April 2001)

The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marraige. As early as the mid-1980s, gay rights organizations had been active in the country in demanding legal recognition of same-sex marriages. In 1995, the Parliament decided to set up a commission to discuss this issue. The commission worked quickly, and in 1997 concluded that the definition of civil marriage should be amended to include same-sex couples. The marriage bill was drafted and debated in the Dutch Parliament, and finally passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate on December 19, 2000. The law came into effect on April 1, 2001. After this decision, the Protestant Church of the country permitted its individual congregations to make their own decisions on whether or not to provide their respective services for such marriages. Today, after nearly 15 years of legalization of same-sex marriages in Netherlands, the country serves as a paradise for same-sex couples from the world over, who come to the Netherlands to enjoy full rights as couples.

First Countries To Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Nationally

RankCountryYear Gay Marriage Legalized
1The Netherlands2000
5South Africa2006
8Argentina 2010
10Portugal 2010
17New Zealand2013
23United States2015

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