Same Sex Marriage Around the World

Where do countries around the world stand on the issue of same-sex marriage? Today, 26 states formally recognize the right of same-sex couples to get married. Most laws allowing same-sex marriage are a relatively recent development.

North America

Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • Canada (2005)
  • Mexico* (2009)
  • United State of American (2015)

Until the late-1990s, same-sex marriage was generally prohibited in North America. While same-sex couples did enjoy limited rights (e.g., partnership, civil union), it was not until Canadian provinces began to formally recognize same-sex marriage that the LGBT community began to gain equal rights under the law. By 2006, the Canadian Parliament had fully cemented same-sex marriage rights nationwide.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico, City, Mexico since 2009. Since then, the country of Mexico has taken steps to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Mexico affirmed the validity of the marriages performed in Mexico City and set the stage for nationwide recognition. Today, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and Mexico City, and same-sex couples do have the right to seek an injunction against any state attempting to ban the practice.

Since the 1970s, same-sex marriage has been a hotly contested issue in the United States. States were primarily tasked with deciding if same-sex marriage would be legal within its own boundaries. In 2015, however, same-sex marriage became a legal right across the nation.

South America

Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • Argentina (2010)
  • Brazil (2013)
  • Uruguay (2013)
  • Columbia (2016).

Four countries in South America have formally recognized the legal right of same-sex couples to marry. Argentina was the first country to extend the right to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, in 2010. Brazil and Uruguay followed suit in 2013, with Colombia joining in 2016.

Why do only four countries in Latin America extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples? One answer, perhaps, is that South America is predominantly Catholic. According to Catholic customs, the sanctity of marriage is strictly reserved for the union of a man and a woman. The fact that South American countries are extending legal rights to same-sex couples in those places where Catholicism is the primary religion is encouraging.


Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • The Netherlands (2000)
  • Belgium (2003)
  • Spain (2005)
  • Norway (2008)
  • Sweden (2009)
  • Portugal (2010)
  • Iceland (2010)
  • Denmark (2012)
  • France (2013)
  • England & Wales (2013)
  • Scotland (2014)
  • Luxembourg (2014)
  • Finland (2015)
  • Greenland (2015)
  • Germany (2017)
  • Malta (2017).

The Netherlands was the first country to extend legal protections to same-sex couples, and was also the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage. In 2000, the country passed a law extending all legal rights and privileges of marriage to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. This marked the first time in international history when same-sex couples secured the right to get married, get divorced, enjoy a partner’s pension benefits as a spouse, and legally adopt children within the country.

In 2003, Belgium followed suit and legalized the institution of marriage for same-sex couples. Over the next 15 years, 13 more countries declared that it was legal for members of the same sex to get married. This was particularly important for those countries, including Malta, with a strong Catholic population.

Many of Europe’s same-sex marriage laws are thanks, in part, to resolutions adopted and signed by the United Nations. These resolutions encouraged equality for LGBT individuals and discouraged violent and discriminatory behavior.


Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • None.

LGBT rights, including those relating to marriage, are relatively limited in Asia. No countries formally recognize gay marriage. In fact, Taiwan and Israel are the only states to formally recognize that same-sex couples have any legal rights. The outlook for same-sex couples in Asia is not particularly encouraging. In many places across the continent, including India and Syria, same-sex relationships and sexual activity are strictly forbidden. Same-sex sexual activity is even punishable by death in certain Asian countries (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan).


Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • South Africa (2006).

African countries tend to particularly hesitant to adopt laws which bestow equal rights on members of the LGBT community. In fact, nearly one-third of the countries explicitly criminalizing same-sex sexual activity are located in Africa. It may not be surprising, then, that only one of Africa’s 54 countries recognizes same-sex marriage.

In 2006, South Africa became the first and only African country to legally acknowledge gay marriage. While the state-wide legalization was supported by both dominant political parties, at least one-fifth of South American residents firmly opposed the measure. In an effort to address concerns and legal rights of those opposed to gay marriage, South Africa lawmakers allow religious and/or civil officers to refuse to preside over a same-sex marriage ceremony. The ability to “opt-out” and refuse to honor the marriage was a clear effort to address civil rights of all citizens to be free from state command.


Countries where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • New Zealand (2013)
  • Australia (2017).

In 2005, New Zealand passed legislation that recognized the right of same-sex partners to enter into a civil union. Under the law, same-sex couples were entitled to enjoy many, but not all, of the benefits granted to married heterosexual couples. In 2013, the country formally extended all marital rights to same-sex couples by granting them the right to wed.

Same-sex couples in Australia have themselves to thank for the right to get married. In 2017, a voter referendum made it very clear that the country was overwhelmingly in favor of extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples. Later that year, the Australian Parliament responded by formally legalizing the institution of marriage for heterosexual and same-sex couples.

Importance of International Marriage Equality

Why is it important to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples? There are two primary reasons. First, the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and preference, should never be abridged, and In other words, it is not okay to extend the right of marriage to one person, but refuse to bestow that right on another person, simply because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex. Unless all individuals under the law are extended the opportunity to enjoy the same rights and privileges, no one is equal.

Second, getting married allows partners and spouses to enjoy certain legal benefits not extended to non-married individuals. Preventing same-sex couples from getting married prevents them from enjoying the benefits of marriage simply because they are not in a heterosexual relationship. Benefits of marriage, that may only be inherently extended to married spouses, include those relating to:

  • Adoption
  • Paternity
  • Child custody & child support
  • Divorce
  • Property division
  • Spousal rights relating to pension and retirement benefits
  • Healthcare
  • Probate and inheritance, and
  • Tax.

Refusing to extend same-sex couples the right to marry also prevents the enjoyment of these tangential rights and privileges.