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Same-sex marriage

Governments that have
recognized same-sex relationships

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The Netherlands were the first country to extend equal marriage rights to homosexuals. Belgium was second.  Spain, South Africa, Canada, and the American states of Massachusetts and California legalized same-sex marriage later. Other jurisdictions grant some legal privileges to same-sex couples, often called partnerships, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.

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Countries which have given some recognition to same-sex marriages:

The status as of 2003-JUL:

bullet In North America:
bullet Same-sex couples, from any country, could be married in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. [In 2005-AUG, same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada.]
bullet The states of California, Hawaii, and Vermont in the United States and the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada allowed gays and lesbians to apply for registered partnerships or civil unions. This gives them some of the rights and obligations that are automatically enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. For example, Vermont "civil unionized" couples pick up almost 500 rights and privileges -- all the state has to offer -- but are denied over 1,000 federal rights and privileges.
bullet Gay and lesbian couples in California became able to register their relationship with the state government and obtain some restricted privileges.
bullet Some American cities have partnership registrations. However, they grant few, if any, rights. 
bullet In Europe:
bullet Same-sex couples in the Netherlands and Belgium can marry. These countries do not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, except that there are restrictions on same-sex couples where one spouse is from another country.
bullet A few European countries -- Denmark, France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden -- offer similar legal status to civil unions.
bullet Many cities in France and Spain have systems for gay and lesbian couples can register. However, they grant few, if any, rights.

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Current recognition of same-sex relationships:

bullet Belgium: On 2003-JAN-30, Belgium became the second country in the world to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. However, the legislation does not allow them to adopt children.
bullet Brazil: Marta Suplicy is a legislator representing the Workers Party. He brought forward a gay-partnership bill which "assures rights to inheritance, succession, welfare benefits, joint-income declaration, right to nationality in case of a foreign partner and joint income in order to buy a house." to gay and lesbian couples. The bill passed a Senate committee in 1996-DEC by a vote of 11 to 5.

Conservative religious elements were able to delay a vote on the bill until 1997-OCT when the Pope will be visiting the country. They may be motivated by the belief that the Pope may be able to sway some legislators to vote against the bill.

bullet Canada: The federal marriage act was amended on 2005-AUG to define marriage as a union of two persons. One exception to this law is in British Columbia where the polygamous marriages of members of a small Mormon splinter group are known to the government and allowed to exist.  More details
bullet Cambodia: On 1995-MAR-12, two lesbians (Pum Ethwere & Khav Sokha) were legally married in Kro Bao Ach Kok village in Kandal province. 95% of Cambodians follow Theravada Buddhism. This appears to have been a fluke; same-sex marriages are not allowed by the country's constitution.
bullet Denmark: The first movement towards same-sex partnerships occurred in 1968 with a proposal by the Socialist People's Party to recognize gay and lesbian relationships. A committee rejected the idea in 1973 because it would change the institution of marriage and adversely affect the way that people in other countries viewed Danish marriages. A commission was formed in 1984 to restudy the matter. Their Parliament amended laws covering inheritance and tax laws to give same-sex couples equality with married couples. The Social Democratic Party and the Socialist People's Party cosponsored a bill in 1989 which would create registered partnerships. On June 7, 1989, and with the support of about 60% of the population, Folketing (parliament) passed the law by a vote of 71 to 47. It became effective on 1989-OCT-1.

The Danish gay newspaper Pan-Bladet reported (circa late 1995) that there have been about 1,449 gay and 634 lesbian registered partnerships registered under the law. 23% of the lesbians and 14% of the gay couples have since divorced; 11% have been terminated by the death of one partner. The divorce rate is lower than for married couples.

Partnership guarantees certain rights that were previously restricted to married couples: inheritance, insurance plans, pension, social benefits, income tax reductions, unemployment benefits and social benefits. It also makes them responsible for alimony payments if they divorce. But they originally were not allowed to have their partnership ceremony within the state Church of Denmark, or adopt children or receive free artificial insemination services. The law will probably be amended in the future to grant some of these rights. Opponents to the law were concerned that it would generate an influx of gays and lesbians into the country, seeking benefits. This did not occur, perhaps partly because the law requires one spouse to be a Danish resident. Not all gays and lesbians supported the law. Some, particularly lesbians, objected because of past negative experiences while married. Kim Engelbrechtsen, the information manager for Denmark's Tourism Department said: "It's had only a positive effect. It's showing we're an open-minded society." Per Stig Moller, a member of the legislature who abstained from voting on the bill, regards the bill as a success because it has helped stabilize homosexuals in committed relationships. "Now they live officially..."It works."

In 1997, the bishops of the state church (Danish Lutheran Church) voted to accept same-sex partnerships. Gay and lesbian couples can now have their partnership ceremony conducted in the state church.

Starting in 1999, gay and lesbian couples were allowed to adopt their partner's children. However, they are still not able to adopt children from outside of their partnership.

bullet France: They have a national health insurance plan which covers the partners of civil servants (and perhaps others). The French government introduced Civil Solidarity Pacts (PACS) in 1998. They would give unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same tax breaks and legal benefits that are currently enjoyed only by married couples. It would also make it easier for unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt children; it does not extend the same option to homosexual couples. Pastor Jean Tartier, president of the Protestant Federation of France favors the proposed law: "The PACS must be seen as a contract of solidarity, not a marriage in disguise. If that is the case, this proposition seems to me clear and positive." Fr. Olivier de la Brosse, spokesperson for the permanent council of the Roman Catholic bishops took a negative view: "Marriage and the family are fundamental sacred institutions essential for society. Legislation that places other unions at the same level creates a serious problem for the structure of society." Jewish and Muslim spokespersons also took negative views. A massive demonstration was held in opposition to the bill by about 100,000 individuals on 1999-JAN-31. The bill was passed in the National Assembly, and became law on 1999-OCT-13. Under the law, couples can register at their local courthouses after "three years of stated fidelity." According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, "Couples registered under the new law can file joint tax forms, take simultaneous vacations, are subject to lower inheritance taxes, and are responsible for each others debts. There is speculation that the law...will eventually lead to easier adoption and artificial insemination for gay couples. The law also makes separation easier.3
bullet Germany: The Federal government has passed a law which would allow gay and lesbian couples to exchange vows at a local government office. They would need to apply to a court for a divorce. They would receive some of the benefits that are automatically given to heterosexual married couples -- e.g. inheritance rights and health insurance coverage. However they are not granted the right to adopt and will not receive the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples. The law was championed by the Green party -- a group devoted to the environment. It was supported by the ruling Social Democrat coalition partners. passed in the lower house of parliament in the year 2000. However, the upper house, stripped the law of some tax privileges that are granted to heterosexual married couples. The states of Bavaria and Saxony applied to the Federal Constitutional Court for an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect on 2001-AUG-1. They argued that the law breaks constitutional provisions that protect heterosexual marriage and the "family." The court turned down the request for an injunction but has yet to rule on the complaint. 4 Angelika Baldow and Gudrun Pannier, both 36, became the first couple to exchange vows in Berlin. Pannier said "I feel great. This is very symbolic -- a message that Berlin is a tolerant city. It is the fulfillment of a dream, but it is just the beginning. We haven't got equal rights yet." Manfred Bruns, spokesperson for the German Lesbian and Gay Association said: "The registration of life partnerships still does not being equality, but is a great leap forward in the right direction."
bullet Greenland: is a dependency of Denmark. They adopted the Danish law in 1994.
bullet Hungary: Their Constitutional Court on 1995-MAR-8, declared that: "It is arbitrary and contrary to human dignity ... that the law withholds recognition from couples living in an economic and emotional union simply because they are same-sex...Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality [and] changes in the traditional definition of a family, there is no reason to change the law on [civil] marriages,". The court gave Parliament one year to introduce legislation which would recognize same-sex partnerships and give them the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as have long been given to opposite-sex common-law couples. Parliament voted 207 to 73 in favor of the legislation during 1996-MAY. Registered gay and lesbian partnerships now have all of the privileges of common-law marriages, except for the right to adopt. Some reaction by gay groups:
bullet Laszlo Rusvai: "This will help homosexuals to live together in a legal framework...I hope this ruling will help the further demolition of social prejudices."
bullet Rainbow spokesperson Geza Juhasz: "We welcome the fact that parliament passed this law but I don't think this proves that most MPs are more enlightened. The law was...imposed on parliament by the Constitutional Court."
bullet Iceland: On 1996-JUN-27, their Althing (Parliament) approved a bill (44 in favor, 1 opposed, 1 abstention, 17 not present) which gives gays and lesbians the right to unite in a civil ceremony which is recognized by the state. Margaret Olafsdottir, who leads the Association of 78 (the country's gay rights movement), said "This will revolutionize the lives of the gay couples in Iceland who have, until now, had to suffer great inequality in matters regarding insurance, taxes and the rights to inherit from one's partner....This injustice has, in the past, led to many personal tragedies.". Later, she said: "Iceland is now in the forefront of countries giving lesbians and gay men the legal right to have their cohabitation recognized with mutual rights and responsibilities."

Shared custody of children is permitted if one of the spouses has a child when they are married. But the law does not allow them to adopt children or practice artificial insemination. They also do not have the right to a church wedding. But they have all of the other rights and obligations of a married couple.

Three couples (two gay and one lesbian) were married in the Reykjavic central registry office immediately after the bill was passed. Anna Sigridur Sigurjonsdottir said "We look upon this as a recognition of our existence." Her new wife, Solveig Magnea Jonsdottir, added: "This brings with it an unbelievable feeling of freedom." Whether by accident or intention, the bill was approved during Gay Pride week.

bullet Netherlands: On 2000-DEC-19, the upper house of the Dutch government passed a bill that enlarges the concept of marriage in the Netherlands. Since 2001-APR, gay and lesbian couples, who are either citizens of the Netherlands or who have residency permits, have been able to marry and adopt. This makes the Netherlands the first western country in recent history to have legalized gay and lesbian marriages. More details.  
bullet New Zealand: They have a Federal law which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Their marriage act does not specifically prohibit same sex marriages; it only disallows marriages which would "damage the gene pool." However, three lesbian couples were denied the right to marry. They appealed to the High Court. In 1996-MAY, they lost the case. High Court Justice Kerr apparently did not view their petition as a civil rights matter, believing that the majority of the people should favor same-sex marriage before it is legalized. he said: "To give marriage a meaning which the plaintiffs seek would require me to interpret the law in a way which I do not perceive Parliament to intend...Community attitudes in 1996 are much more relaxed to gay and lesbian couples ... but whether that relaxation would extend to supporting marriage of such couples is difficult to gauge." [The same argument could have been used to continue a ban on inter-racial marriages in 1967]. One of the plaintiffs, Lindsay Quiltrer commented: "I refuse to take no for an answer. This is not just about queer rights. It shows that the Bill of Rights doesn't have the teeth it claimed to have."
bullet Norway: Same as Denmark. Their Odelsting Chamber voted 58-40; their Lagting Chamber voted 18 to 16. The law came into effect on 1993-AUG-1
bullet South Africa: The country's most senior court legalized same-sex marriages on 2005-DEC-01. However, their ruling was delayed for twelve months to allow the government to modify the Marriage Act. More details.
bullet Sweden: Similar to Denmark. The vote was 171-141 with 5 abstentions and 32 absences! The law became effective on 1995-JAN-1. Their Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, said "We accept homosexual love as equivalent to heterosexual,"
bullet Spain: Same as Denmark (since 1996).
bullet Slovenia: The Federal Government's Bureau for Women's Politics announced on 1996-MAR-23 that same sex marriages should be available within two years.
bullet United States:
bullet Cities: About 20 cities offer registration of same-sex relationships. However, they carry little or no legal worth.
bullet Hawaii: Gay and Lesbian marriages were legal for a few hours during early 1996-DEC in Hawaii after a court ruling. A stay of the ruling was obtained by the state of Hawaii shortly afterwards. The people of Hawaii later passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.
bullet Vermont: The Supreme Court of Vermont ruled in favor of three same-sex couples and required the Vermont legislature to pass a law that allows homosexual couples to enter civil unions. This grants same-sex couples the same rights, obligations and benefits that the state automatically gives to heterosexual married couples.
bullet Massachusetts: On 2003-NOV-19, in a split 4-3 decision, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state constitution allowed same-sex marriage, and that the state had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting on 2004-MAY-17. More details.
bullet California: On 2008-MAY-14, by another split 4-3, Proposition 22 was overturned as being unconstitutional. California became the second state in which both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples can now marry. More details.

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Companies granting same-sex benefits to partners of lesbian/gay employees

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  1. Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples is a "national resource for same-sex couples, supporting the diverse community of committed gay and lesbian partners through a variety of media." Actually, they are an international resource. See: Their postal address is Box 9685, Seattle, WA 98109-0685, USA. Their phone is (206) 935-1206. E-mail them at 
  2. Baptist Press, "'Domestic partner registries' increase nationwide," 1999-OCT-14. Available at Maranatha Christian Journal at:
  3. "France legalizes marriage benefits to same-sex couples," The Feminist Majority Foundation, at:
  4. "Germany's top court refuses to block same-sex couples law," Associated Press, 2001-JUL-18.

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"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

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Copyright 1997 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAY-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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