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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions

2013: Current status: in the U.S.,
Canada, South America, Europe, etc.

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This essay is believed to be accurate as of 2014-FEB-10. However, legal recognition of same-sex relationships is in a continual state of flux. Do not rely on the following essay to make personal decisions.

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Worldwide SSM status as of 2014-FEB-10:

Seventeen countries have legalized SSM. In addition, same-sex marriage (SSM) is available in some states in Mexico, and the U.S. The most recent countries to achieve marriage equality were: England & Wales and Scotland.

Same-sex marriage world map 6

There is activity aimed at legalizing SSM in both of the large predominately
English-speaking countries that have not already achieved marriage equality:
Australia and Northern Ireland

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Current status of same-sex marriages in the U.S.:

As of 2014-FEB-11: SSM has been legalized in 17 states [California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state] and the District of Columbia. In addition:

  • A federal District Court in Utah has issued a ruling legalizing SSM; that ruling is being appealed even as about 1,300 same-sex couples were able to get married there until a judicial stay was imposed.

  • A federal District Court in Oklahoma has issued a ruling legalizing SSM. A stay of the ruling was applied immediately, so that no loving, committed same-sex couples were able to marry. Both the Utah and Oklahoma cases have been appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • Ohio recognizes same-sex marriages legally solemnized out of state but only after a spouse's death, and then only in their death certificate. That is, in order to have your marriage recognized in Ohio, you have to leave the state, get legally married, return to Ohio, and die. One second before you die, your marriage is not recognized. One second later, your marriage is recognized. The state government is appealing the ruling.

Almost 40% of Americans live in a place where same-sex couples can marry. Same-sex marriage (SSM) is forbidden by state constitutional amendments in 27 states and by state laws only in about 5 states.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) once prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages anywhere in the country. Same-sex married couples and their children received none of the federal benefits, recognitions, protections etc., that are automatically given to opposite-sex married couples. A critical section of DOMA was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in late 2013-JUN. Some same-sex married couples now receive some federal benefits, depending on where they were married, and where they currently reside.

At the moment, the United States is a bit of a patchwork quilt and is liable to remain as such for years. A same-sex couple who had married, say, in Massachusetts, can go on a trip with their children, wander through a number of states, briefly enter Canada, and change their status repeatedly:

bullet In Canada: they would be regarded as married.
bulletIn the U.S. depending upon the state they were in, they might be:
bullet Considered married, and having full state and federal rights, or

bullet Recognized as being in a civil union, and having full state rights but no federal marriage rights, or.

bullet Recognized as being in a domestic partnership or some type of beneficiary relationship. They would have some state rights, but no federal marriage rights, or

bullet Being temporarily divorced against their will, considered roommates, having their children regarded as illegitimate, having no guaranteed access to each other if one enters a hospital, unable to make medical decisions if their partner is incapacitated, etc. Most states do not recognize same-sex relationships -- even if the couple was legally married elsewhere. Such couples are regarded as "legal strangers" -- as mere roommates.

Loving, committed couples need to plan their vacations carefully in case they have a medical emergency or other problem.

Lambda Legal maintains a "national and state-by-state snapshot" of laws and constitutional amendments that affect LGBT persons. It is titled: "An Unfulfilled Promise: Lesbian and Gay Inequality Under American Law." It covers the following topics of concern for LGBT couples and individuals:

  • Adoption.
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Employment discrimination
  • Discrimination in accommodations.

The snapshot, which is a PDF file, can be viewed at:  The document has a disclaimer: "This document offers general information only and not legal advice about specific situations."

As of 2014-FEB-10, the federal Justice Department will give lawful same-sex marriages equal protection under the law in every program that it administers. This includes lawsuits in federal courts, prison visites by married same-sex spouses, financial compensation to surviving spouses of public safety offices, etc. These apply even if the state where the same-sex couple lives -- or the surviving spouse lives -- does not recognize their marriages. Holder said:

"This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law. ... This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all."

The National Organization for Marriage -- a group dedicated to the prohibition of same-sex marriage across the U.S. joined with other social and religious groups to express outrage at Justice Department's 's decision. More details

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Current status of same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships in the U.S.:

Twelve states and the District of Columbia allow couples to register their relationships. They are called by different names: civil union, domestic partnership, designated beneficiary agreement, or reciprocal beneficiary relationship. These give same-sex couples some, most, or all of the state's legal benefits of marriage. However all are missing what many same-sex couples consider the most important right of all: to be able to refer to their relationship as a marriage.

As of 2012-APR: The jurisdictions were: California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, and Wisconsin. 5,6

In a few political jurisdictions like California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, and Maine, same-sex couples can either register their relationship as a civil union, etc., or be married.

About 46% of the U.S. population resides in a state where same-sex couples can marry, or register their relationship as a civil union, etc., or do either.

Interracial couples had a similar situation back in the 1960's before the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court's ruling -- Loving v. Virginia -- declared racially bigoted laws in 16 contiguous states in the deep south-east to be unconstitutional, and made interracial marriages legal across the country.

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Two maps showing changes between 2013-DEC and 2014-NOV:

According to Wikipedia on 2013-DEC-22, the status of SSM in the U.S. was:

Map of SSM in the U.S. 1

The same map as of 2014-NOV shows major changes:

U.S. map showing marriage equality in 2014-NOV 1

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Colors used in the above map:

   Same-sex marriage available now or about to become into effect
   Civil Unions, domestic partnerships, etc granting some of the state rights to marriage
   Legislation granting limited/enumerated rights
   Legal SSMs performed elsewhere recognized in this state.
   State law bans SSM. Either the legislature or state supreme court could legalize SSMs.
   State Constitution bans SSM. Either a constitutional amendment or decision by a federal Court could legalize SSMs.
   State Constitution bans both SSM and other kinds of same-sex unions; loving committed same-sex couples have the legal status of roommates. Either a state constitutional amendment or a decision by a federal court could legalize SSMs.

In comparison, a similar map for opposite-sex marriage would be a continuous sea of dark blue. Married opposite-sex couples are recognized throughout the US, Canada and other countries as married.

A more detailed map is available on the Wall Street Journal web site. It consists of a separate image for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In each case, recent developments are listed. See:

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bullet States typically provide a few hundred benefits, protections and rights to all married couples and their children.
bullet Since 2013-JUN, when part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional, the 1,038 federal rights, benefits and privileges automatically given to married opposite-sex couples are now available to same-sex couples in those states that recognize same-sex marriages.

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Current status in Canada:

Since 2005-JUL-20. all loving, committed couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex -- have been able marry in nine out of ten province and in all three territories of Canada, The one exception was Prince Edward Island (PEI). Their provincial government initially couldn't figure out a process that would enable them to marry same sex couples. Their motivation to find a solution quickly increased when they faced a lawsuit from a lesbian couple. Realizing that they had absolutely zero chance of winning at court, the province quickly devised a mechanism to marry the couple and subsequent same-sex couples.

Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can marry in Canada whether they are Canadians or citizens of another country if they meet age and genetic requirements.

Late 2009 public opinion polls indicate that about two in three Canadian adults approve of marriage equality. The topic is very rarely discussed in the media, with the exception of wedding announcements.

More details.

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Status in South America at 2013-APR:

In different countries in the world, holding a same-sex marriage ritual can involve anything from a great celebration to a risk of arrest, trial and execution. The latter is the law in six predominately Muslim countries. Countries in South America do not go quite to these extremes. Reaction ranges from celebrations and marriage registration in Argentina, to an arrest, trial, and a potential life sentence in Guyana.

map of SSM status in Central/South America 4
    Other type of partnership recognized
    No recognition, SSM banned by the constitution
    Same-sex sexual activity criminalized (one country, Guyana)

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17 countries have legalized (or are about to legalize) same-sex marriage in the world as of 2014-FEB:

  • Year 2000: * Netherlands: Gay and lesbian couples, who are either citizens of the Netherlands or who have residency permits, are able to marry and adopt. This was the first country in the world to make same-sex marriages available. More details.

  • 2003: Belgium: Same-sex couples couples who are residents or citizens can marry, but cannot yet adopt. More details.

  • 2005: Spain: The country legalized SSM in 2005-JUN. More details.

  • 2005: Canada: The country legalized SSM in 2005-JUL-20. More details. Because of Canada's closeness to the U.S. in terms of culture and geography, we have covered events leading up to SSM in detail.

  • 2006: South Africa: Their Constitutional Court -- South Africa's highest court -- ruled on 2005-DEC that same-sex marriages must be legalized within a year. On 2006-NOV-15, their legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, by a vote of 230 to 41 with three abstentions.

  • 2008: Norway: Enabling legislation was passed during 2008-JUN; since 2009, same-sex couples have been able to marry. More details.

  • 2009: Sweden: Enabling legislation was overwhelmingly passed by Parliament on 2009-APR-01. It took effect on 2009-MAY-01. More details.

  • 2009: Mexico City: The city became the first jurisdiction in Latin America to legalize SSM on 2009-DEC-21.

  • 2009: Argentina: Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world saw the first SSM in Latin America. It is located in Tierra del Fuego province at the southern tip of Argentina. More info.

  • 2010: Portugal: Amazingly, this country in which 97% of the population identifies with the Roman Catholic Church, turned its back on the Church's teachings and legalized SSM. The first same-sex couple were married on JUN-07

  • 2010: Iceland: The first same-sex couple to be married was Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and her long-time female partner Jonina Leosdottir.

  • 2010: Argentina: By mid-July, both houses in the Government had passed a same-sex marriage bill amid intense opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christian groups. It was signed into law; same-sex marriages have been available since 2010-JUL-22. More details

  • 2011-JUL: India: "Savita, a 25 year old student at Choudhary Charan Singh University and her 20 year old wife Veena, 20, became the first same-sex couple married by a court in Haryana, close to New Delhi.

  • 2013-MAY: Brazil's National Council of Justice ruled that notaries public must perform same-sex marriages, register same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and convert same-sex civil unions into marriages when requested. This decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriages across the country effective MAY-16. More details.
  • 2013-JUN: The governments of three countries have approved SSM:
  • 2013-JUL: Same-sex marriage was legalized in England and Wales and will be available on 2014-MAR-29. More details.

  • 2014-FEB: Same-sex marriage was legalized in Scotland. More details.

 * Years cited are when enabling legislation was passed. Most legislatures passed laws that only took effect months later.

Other notes:

bullet Europe: Many countries in Europe have created a type of civil union for same-sex couples which grant them most or all of the benefits and obligations of marriage. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged to convince European countries who have no same-sex marriage or civil union law to recognize those same-sex couples' civil unions contracted in Britain. He said:

"We want countries where that hasn't been the case - especially in Eastern Europe - to recognize them. We're negotiating agreements with France and then with Spain. ...If we could show eastern Europe as well as western Europe, that this respect for gay people is due, that would be really important. Of course it will be tough, and will take many years, but that has never ever been a good reason not to fight." 2

bullet Israel: This country is unique in the world, in that many of its citizens are unable to marry within their own country. Marriages in Israel are performed under a "confessional community" system. There are a total of 15 recognized religious communities, none of which recognize same-sex marriage. Jewish couples must be from the orthodox community in order to be eligible to be married in the country. Reformed Jews, Jews from other traditions, couples from an unrecognized religious community, and couples who are unaffiliated with any religion cannot marry in Israel. They must leave the country, get married elsewhere, return to Israel, and register their foreign marriages. Due to a loophole in the law, this applies also to same-sex couples. However, although same-sex couples can register their marriages, their registration carries no legal weight. The loophole is expected to be plugged eventually. Their relationship can currently be recognized as a type of cohabitation and they can receive most of the rights of marriage. More details.

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Related essay:


Timeline of SSM events in the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The large graphics are copied from Wikipedia at: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License. You are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. See: Official license. The image is updated from Wikipedia periodically.
  2. Hilary White, "UK Prime Minister Pledges to Force Gay Civil Union Recognition in Eastern Europe,", 2009-DEC-18, at:
  3. "Argentine Senate backs bill legalizing gay marriage," BBC News, 2010-JUL-15, at:
  4. "Same-sex marriage in Argentina," Wikipedia, as on 2011-JAN-10, at:
  5. "Domestic partnership," Wikipedia, as at: 2013-APR-15, at:
  6. "Civil union," Wikipedia, as at: 2013-APR-14, at:

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Copyright 2003 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2014-NOV-25

Author: B.A. Robinson

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