Updated May 2018
Ever since same-sex marriage was legalized in the Netherlands in 2001 (props to the Netherlands for always being at the front of progressive change), the legalization of same-sex marriage has snowballed throughout the world.
28 countries (26 with another two pending) now legally recognize the right for same sex couples to marry, so if you’re part of the LGBTQI community, and want to travel, live overseas, or plan a destination wedding, these countries will recognize your right.
More than 760 million people now live in countries where same-sex marriage is legal, and I encourage all travelers to support those countries at the forefront of equality and recognition of human rights.
Dear LGBTQI Travelers: This is Where Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in the World
At a Glance
As of May 2018 Same-sex marriage is legal in these 26 countries:
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), United States, Uruguay.
The Netherlands (2001)
The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Dutch Parliament passed legislation by a three-to-one margin which allows same-sex couples to legally marry, divorce and adopt children.
The civil marriage statute now reads, “A marriage can be contracted by two people of different or the same sex.” While conservative religious groups continue to oppose the law, same-sex marriage is widely accepted by the Dutch public.
Belgium’s parliament voted to allow same-sex marriage in 2003, with very little controversy. Same-sex couples have been able to adopt children since 2006.
Same-sex couples have had limited rights in Belgium since 1998 (you could register your relationship and formally assume joint responsibility for a household), though the 2003 legislation reflected equal terms for tax and inheritance rights.
Belgium recognizes marriages from other countries where same-sex marriage is legal. You can marry here so long as one person in the relationship has lived in Belgium for at least three months.
For one of the most divided countries on the issue, Spain’s parliament narrowly passed some of the world’s most liberal marriage equality laws.
While strongly criticized and publicly opposed by large crowds and Catholic officials, their marriage statute 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.”
After the law passed two municipal court judges refused marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The high court ruled that these judges had no standing to do so.
What started as a series of court cases beginning in 2003, Canada became the first country outside of Europe to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005.
A year later the ruling Conservative Party attempted to repeal the legislation, but were defeated and the law remained unchanged.
South Africa (2006)
South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalized same-sex marriage. Legislation passed in 2006, a year after the High Court found that restricting marriage to heterosexuals was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The legislation passed through Parliament with overwhelming support, though does allow for marriage celebrants to refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, which has been criticized as violating the constitutional right to marriage for all.
“The traditional monarch of the Zulu people, who account for about one-fifth of the country’s population, maintains that homosexuality is morally wrong.”
Norway has had a law in place permitting civil unions since 1993, however this was replaced with full marriage and adoption rights in 2009.
Parliament was split over the issue, with 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 law also allows gay couples to undergo artificial insemination).
After initially protesting this change, the Norwegian Lutheran Church has changed their stance and has been sanctioning same sex marriages since early 2017.
Sweden’s parliament passed same-sex marriage in 2009 with an overwhelming majority. Gay and lesbian couples had been able to register for a civil union since 1995.
The Church of Sweden allows clergy to officiate ceremonies, despite the law not requiring them to (roughly three quarters of Sweden belongs to the Lutheran Church of Sweden).
Mexico (2009). Same-sex marriage in Mexico is legislated on a State by State basis. While not a nation wide right, in 2015 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could seek a court injunction against state laws which ban gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in the Mexican States of Mexico City, Quintana Roo, Coahuila and Chihuahua. Marriages performed in Mexico City are legally valid nation wide and must be accepted throughout the country.
Portugal legalised same-sex marriage in 2010 through a parliamentary vote, though shortly after, President Anibal Cavaco Silva issued a presidential veto, asking the Constitutional Court to review the vote.
The Court declared the law to be constitutionally valid, and the president signed it. Same-sex couples in Portugal do not yet have the right to adopt children.
Public opinion in Iceland had supported same-sex marriage long before it was legalized in 2010, and as such, it was passed in parliament with unanimous support.
One of the first people to marry under the new law was the country’s Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who married her partner, Jónína Leósdóttir. Couples were already able to adopt, and had been able to register as domestic partners since 1996.
Argentina’s legislation for same-sex marriage only narrowly passed, though in 2010, they became the first country in Latin and South America allow it.
Under the law, same-sex couples have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples do, including the right to adopt children.
The law sparked huge controversy among Catholic and Protestant groups in the country, and there was vigorous opposition against it. Prior to the national law, a number of local jurisdictions had already been offering civil unions.
While Denmark passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2012, couples already had the right to register as partners and adopt children. In fact, they were the first country to allow same-sex couples to register as domestic partners in 1989.
After the bill was passed, Queen Margrethe II gave her royal assent. Under this law, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark must allow same-sex couples to marry in churches, however individual clergy may decline to officiate the ceremony if they wish.
While the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the State Church of Denmark, other religious groups are allowed to determine for themselves whether or not to allow same-sex weddings in their churches.
France’s move to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption in 2013, saw hundreds of thousands of protesters and counter-protesters take to the streets. It was immediately challenged it in court, however the Constitutional Council ruled that the bill was constitutional.
While opinion polls show that a majority of France supports the law, the opposition was intense, and since 2013, many anti-gay marriage protests have taken place.
Brazil was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage not through legislation, but with a court ruling. Brazil’s National Council of Justice ruled that same-sex couples should not be denied marriage licenses, allowing same-sex marriages to begin nationwide.
Prior to this ruling, around half of Brazil’s local jurisdictions had already allowed same-sex marriage, and Same-sex unions had been legally recognized since 2004.
Uruguay was the second country in Latin America to pass same-sex marriage legislation, a decision which was made with overwhelming support (Uruguay is among the most secular countries in Latin America).
Civil unions have been permitted in Uruguay since 2008, and couples were given the right to adopt in 2009. Uruguay was the first Latin American country to have a national civil union law.
New Zealand (2013)
New Zealand was the first country in the Asia Pacific to legalise same-sex marriage (civil unions have been available since 2005). Their parliament comfortably passed the law (77-44) in 2013 which also allows gay couples to adopt.
This law is only in regard to New Zealand proper – three other territories making up the Realm of New Zealand—the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau—do not perform or recognise same-sex marriage.
England and Wales (2014)
In 2013 British parliament passed a law which would legalise same-sex marriage in England and Wales the following year, and in 2014 the Scottish parliament passed a similar bill.
Northern Ireland had the opportunity to pass same-sex marriage legislation, however it was voted down and remains illegal. (Scotland and Northern Ireland are semi-autonomous and have separate legislative bodies to decide many domestic issues, including the definition of marriage.)
Queen Elizabeth II gave her “royal assent”, though the Church of England remains opposed to same-sex marriage, and are allowed to prohibit same-sex marriage weddings within the Church. That said, there is currently internal debate over the issue.
In 2015 Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote via a referendum.
Despite being a Catholic country, 62% of Irish voters voted yes, to amend the Constitution of Ireland to say that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
“While some Catholic Church leaders opposed the change, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wrote a commentary in The Irish Times newspaper saying that he would not tell people how to vote and that he had “no wish to stuff my religious views down other people’s throats.”
Luxembourg’s parliament overwhelmingly supported same-sex marriage and adoption legislation in 2014, which was enacted on January 1, 2015. This was the first major re-write to the country’s marriage legislation since 1804.
The yes campaign was championed by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who married his partner four months after the law came into effect.
The United States (2015)
In a divided ruling of the Supreme Court, the United States passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2015, and it was instantly legalized across all 50 states.
Prior to the court ruling, 36 states had already legislated the issue themselves, with Massachusetts having recognized same-sex marriage for 11 years.
For those in Austin, Texas, we recommend Zachary Hunt Photorgaphy; many of his photographs appear here (full photo credits at the end of post).
A Catholic majority country, Colombia’s top court voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2016. The 6-3 vote ruled that the country’s constitution guaranteed the right to same sex marriage for LGBT+ citizens.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, conducted between November 28, 2013 and March 4, 2014, 28% of Colombians supported same-sex marriage, and 64% were opposed.
Greenland (2016) & the Faroe Islands (2017)
Two autonomous territories of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe islands are self governing nations and have bodies which legislate their own laws. This means that they were not subject to Denmark’s legislation for same-sex marriage which passed in 2012.
That said, Greenland’s parliament unanimously voted to adopt the marriage and adoption legislation, and the Danish law came into effect for 56,000 Greenlanders in 2016. It has been legal in the Faroe Islands since 1 July 2017.
With the enactment of same-sex marriage legislation in Finland in 2017, all 5 Nordic countries now recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry (the Nordic countries are Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden).
The Finnish parliament passed same-sex marriage legislation in late 2014, though a citizens’ petition was lodged to repeal the law, and was only defeated in 2017. The bill for marriage equality itself started out as a citizens’ initiative – a public petition with a reported 167,000 signatures.
In Slovenia, civil partnerships have been recognised since 2006, however same-sex marriage has only recently become legal in February 2017.
Although the law will give couples largely the same rights as heterosexual ones, it still bans them from jointly adopting children. Couples can adopt children from a partner’s previous relationship but not unrelated children.
Despite being a deeply Catholic nation, Malta’s parliament almost unanimously voted to legalize same-sex marriage in July 2017, and it became legal on September 1.
This came three years after passing a law permitting civil partnerships; only one politician out of 67 in the Maltese parliament voted against the legislation, signalling its broad support on the island nation.
Legislation passed parliament for same sex marriage in Australia on December 7 2017, around a month after a majority of Australians (62%) voted in favour of legalising it in a voluntary postal survey.
The first same sex marriages were held in Australia in January 2018 after the legislation became law.
In a snap vote by MP’s, same-sex marriage and adoption was legalised in Germany on June 30 2017, and will become law later in the year.
This makes Germany the 15th European country to enact legislation allowing same-sex couples to wed. It was a 393-226 vote after “Chancellor Angela Merkel surprised many by saying that members of her ruling Christian Democratic Union should be able to vote their conscience despite the party being formally opposed to same-sex marriage.”
In May 2017 Taiwan’s top court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and issued an ultimatum to the parliament: legislate same-sex marriage within two years or it will become legal regardless.
This landmark ruling will mean the country is first in Asia to allow gay couples to marry, and “cements its reputation as beacon of liberalism”. Even before the ruling, President Tsai Ing-wen promised to legislate for same-sex marriage.
Related: In 2012 I completed my Honors Thesis for the University of Canberra College of Law on “The Implications of Gender Reassignment Surgery on Marriage in Australia”.
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Photo credits: Featured header image by Ted Eytan. Gay wedding by Tom Pumford for Smart Photo Courses via Flickr. Mrs & Mrs Cake by Zachary Hunt of Zachary Hunt Photography. Blue rings by kmadrone. Lindsey and Shaun’s Wedding by Zachary Hunt. Brides in blue by kmadrone. Dr. Bob Wallace and JoJo Brian Reibel by CityofStPete. Tuzedo with pink rose by Zachary Hunt. Phillip and Justin’s Wedding by Zachary Hunt. Two brides (featured in Pinterest image) by masterdesigner.