On 1 April 2001, the Netherlands wrote history. After years of struggle, it became the first in which same-sex couples could get married to each other. Twenty years later, many countries followed suit. We made a complete overview of the places where you can get married as a gay in 2021. We explicitly do not use the term ‘gay marriage’, but the opening of marriage to same-sex couples.
The Netherlands (since 1 April 2001)
At the stroke of midnight on 1 April 2001, Amsterdam’s mayor Job Cohen stood in the starting blocks to marry the first four same-sex couples (p. 045). A decade-long struggle preceded this. Already in the sixties, Harry Thomas with his Dutch Homophile Party argued for equal marriage rights. Lawyer Jan Wolter Wabeke, in cooperation with the GayKrant, also campaigned for it for years. Only in the 1990s did the issue end up on the agenda in the Lower House, partly thanks to Boris Dittrich (p. 074). 109 MPs voted in favour, 33 against, and three years later, marriage equality was finally a fact. Residents of the special municipalities of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba have had equal marriage rights since 10 October 2012, but those of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten still do not.
Belgium (since 1 June 2003)
On 16 June 2013, two weeks after marriage was opened up, a Belgian male couple was to get married for the first time in the presence of politicians and LGBTQ organisations. However, Marion Huibrechts and Christel Verswyvelen from Kapellen were accidentally too quick for them. They had already planned their wedding for 6 June but forgot to take into account the obligatory two-week engagement period. The public prosecutor gave them permission to marry early, inadvertently stealing the scoop. They had actually wanted to get married quietly. “We were called out of bed early by journalists. We knew nothing,” says Marion.
Spain (since 3 July 2005)
After Belgium, things remained quiet for several years, until José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the then Prime Minister of Spain, decided to push for the law ‘Ley española del Matrimonio Igualitario’. This met with a lot of resistance, but after two votes the opening was a fact. Things became tense when in 2011 the conservative Partido Popular came to power with a huge election victory. They tried to have the opening reversed, but fortunately, the Spanish Supreme Court would have none of it.
Canada (since 20 July 2005)
Canada was the first North American country to make marriage possible for all. “In a country of minorities, it is important not to be picky about rights,” said then-Prime Minister Paul Martin just before the vote, “a right is a right.” Previously, several Canadian provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, had already allowed same-sex couples to marry.
South Africa (since 30 November 2006)
Gamekeepers Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls said yes to each other in khaki trousers and leather boots on 1 December 2006. In 1996, South Africa became the first country to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its constitution. The Constitutional Court, therefore, ruled that same-sex couples had just as much right to marry as male-female couples. Although a large majority of the population was against the opening up of the marriage, South Africa thus became the first – and so far only – African country where everyone is allowed to marry.
Norway (since 1 January 2009)
One and a half years after the Norwegian parliament agreed to open marriage, the first Scandinavian male and female couples married. One year later, the Lutheran Church – Norway’s state church until 2012 – also recognised same-sex couples. Shortly afterwards, the wish of 70-year-old Erik Skjelnæs was fulfilled. Sixteen years earlier, his partner Kjell Frølich Benjaminsen had already asked him to marry him, but he had insisted on marrying in a church.
Sweden (since 1 May 2009)
In Sweden, the parliament voted overwhelmingly 261 votes in favour of equal marriage rights on 1 April 2009. Only the Christian Democrats were against it. “Unfortunately, this is not an April 1 joke”, commented Yvonne Andersson, parliamentarian for the Christian Democrats after the vote. A month later, the change in the law will enter into force. A study from 2020 showed, by the way, that relatively more female couples than male couples married each other. The number of divorces was also much higher among women.
Portugal (since 5 June 2010)
“This law corrects a mistake,” said Prime Minister Jose Socrates when the Portuguese Parliament voted to open up marriage on 8 January 2010. Conservative President Aníbal Cavaco Silva finally announced on 17 May that he would ratify the law with fresh reluctance. “I put aside my personal convictions,” he said of it. “I do not want to contribute to a pointless prolongation of this debate, which will only deepen the divisions among Portuguese people.” Cavaco Silva made his announcement three days after a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, who during his stay called equal marriage rights “one of the most dangerous and insidious threats of our time”.
Iceland (since 27 June 2010)
Same-sex couples in Iceland were already allowed to adopt children, and in 2010 the right to marry was added. One of the first Icelandic women to marry was Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. She thus became the first married, homosexual head of government in the world. Initially, there was a small flaw in the law: foreign same-sex couples were allowed to marry in Iceland, but not to divorce. This became apparent when a Russian-Latvian couple tried this in 2010. As their home countries did not recognise their marriage, divorce was not an option there either. Happily or not, their marriage seemed to be forever after.
Argentina (since 22 July 2010)
After a heated debate lasting more than 14 hours, Argentina became the first South American country with equal marriage rights in 2010. President Kirchner’s proposal was adopted with a small majority. One of the opponents in the Senate said of the law: “Marriage between men and women has existed for centuries and is necessary for the reproduction of our species.” Fortunately, it was to no avail; since mid-2010, all Argentines have been allowed to marry and adopt.
Denmark (since 15 June 2012)
In 1989, Denmark became the very first place in the world where people of the same sex could enter into a registered partnership. 23 years later, the right to marry was added. The Kingdom of Denmark consists of three countries, Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, each of which was allowed to make its own decision on whether to open up. In Greenland, the law only came into force on 1 April 2016, in the Faroe Islands on 1 July 2017.
Brazil (since 16 May 2013)
The living conditions of Brazilian LGBTQ have deteriorated drastically in recent years under the rule of President Jair Bolsonaro. However, the country was relatively early with equal marriage rights. Since 16 May 2013, civil registrars are no longer allowed to refuse to marry male and female couples. When Bolsonaro was elected president in 2018, the number of weddings increased dramatically. That year, 62 per cent more same-sex couples married than the year before, fearing Bolsonaro would abolish this right.
France (since 18 May 2013)
In France, the opening of marriage was tumultuous. In Paris, three hundred thousand people took to the streets to protest against the bill. When the first male couple married in Montpellier on 29 May 2013 in the presence of more than 230 journalists from all over the world, the police were present in large numbers for fear of disturbances. All guests were searched prior to the wedding. In the end, there were only a few minor disturbances. Funny detail: Henri Guiana, one of the most homophobic politicians in France, accidentally voted for the opening. He later admitted to having pressed the wrong button during the vote.
Uruguay (since 5 august 2013)
Despite strong protests from the Roman Catholic Church in Uruguay, President José Mujica signed a law in 2013 that made marriage possible for all. The British magazine The Economist subsequently declared Uruguay ‘country of the year’. On the one hand because of its openness, on the other hand, because it decided to legalise the production and sale of cannabis. This put criminals out of action, allowing the authorities to focus on more serious crimes.
New Zealand (since 19 august 2013)
The public gallery spontaneously burst into song when the New Zealand parliament voted to open up marriage. At the top of their voices, attendees sang the traditional Maori love song ‘Pokarekare Ana’. The first female couple, Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau have married onboard a plane at an altitude of 9,000 metres. One of the guests of honour: American actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell from Modern Family), who married his husband in New York earlier that year.
England and Wales (since 13 march 2014)
A few seconds after midnight, the first English and Welsh male and female couples said yes to each other on 29 March 2014. Maria Miller, Minister for Women’s Affairs and Equality piloted the law through Parliament and Prime Minister David Cameron responded with elation: “When love between people is legally impeded, it is the law that needs to change.” Elton John and his husband David Furnish were also in on the act. They married on 21 December 2014.
Scotland (since 16 December 2014)
On 31 December 2014, the first Scottish same-sex couples married. Malcolm Brown and Joe Schofield, who had been together for ten years, did so in a traditional kilt. Although the Catholic Church in Scotland spoke of a ‘dangerous social experiment on a grand scale, a poll showed 65 per cent of Scots supporting the opening up. The overwhelming majority of the parliament also voted in favour. The law was of great importance to married trans people. They now no longer had to divorce their partner in order to legally transition.
Luxembourg (since 1 January 2015)
Belgium and the Netherlands were pioneers in the field of marriage equality, Luxembourg followed only in 2015. This was largely due to the conservative Christian Democrats, who were in power in Luxembourg for 34 years. As soon as the first cabinet without Christian Democrats was in place, marriage was opened up. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of the liberal Demokratesch Partei was the first Luxembourg man to marry a man on 15 May 2015.
United States (since 26 June 2015)
In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled by a narrow majority that no state could refuse to allow same-sex couples to marry. “America should be very proud of this,” said then-Prime Minister Barack Obama. It turned out to be a lucrative change in the law. The University of California at Los Angeles calculated in 2020 that marriages between same-sex couples have already generated an estimated $3.8 billion for the US economy.
Ireland (since 16 November 2015)
Whereas in all countries up to now the government decided on the opening of marriage, in Ireland the decision was put to the people for the first time. On 23 May 2015, Irish people were allowed to say in a referendum whether they were in favour of marriage equality. With a majority of 62.1%, they voted in favour.
Colombia (since 28 April 2016)
The Constitutional Court in Colombia ruled in 2011 that same-sex couples should have the same marriage rights as male-female couples. Congress was given two years to amend the law. No action was taken, so same-sex couples were de facto allowed to marry. Many lawyers and judges did not comply with this in practice. In 2016, the Court, therefore, reconsidered the issue and the opening officially became a reality. A year later, Colombia went one step further: it was the first country in the world to recognise a registered partnership between three men.
Finland (since 1 March 2017)
Singer Krista Siegfrids caused a stir at Eurovision in 2013. She represented Finland with the song ‘Marry Me’, kissing one of her backing singers on the mouth at the end to make a statement. At that point, Finland was the only Scandinavian country without marriage equality. A year later, the parliament finally voted to open up. It took until March 2017 before the laws were changed and the first couples could get married.
Malta (since 1 September 2017)
Malta is an excellent example of the law of inhibiting headway. Until 2011, divorce was even prohibited in this strict Catholic island state in the Mediterranean, but from 2016 the country experienced a huge development. That year, Malta became the first European country to legally prohibit conversion therapy – also known as ‘homogenisation therapy’. The following year, marriage was opened up. For several years now, Malta has been at the top of ILGA’s Rainbow Index, an organisation that keeps track of how well European countries have regulated their LGBTQ rights.
Germany (since 1 October 2017)
“Why am I not allowed to marry my husband?” That question was posed by Ulli Köppe to Chancellor Merkel during a debate organised by the German women’s magazine Brigitte. Merkel replied that it was a matter of conscience and that parliamentarians – including those from her own CDU – could decide for themselves. The coalition partner SPD immediately called for a roll-call vote, which took place a week later. The rest is history. A quarter of CDU parliamentarians voted in favour of the opening, Chancellor Merkel herself voted against it.
Australia (since 9 December 2017)
Like Ireland, Australia asked the people to tie the knot on the hot marriage hinge. Through a non-binding postal poll, Australians made their wishes known in late 2017. 61.6 per cent voted in favour of opening up and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull managed to get a bill through Parliament before the turn of the year. Tim Wilson proposed to his partner in the House of Representatives in anticipation of the legislative approval, to loud cheers and applause in the chamber.
Austria (since 1 January 2019)
A persistent female couple went to court in Austria after several wedding officials refused to marry them. In December 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that this was discrimination. The government was given a year to change the law. The very right-wing coalition did not comply, so the ruling automatically came into force on 1 January 2019. Couples who complained to the Constitutional Court before the ruling were allowed to marry before 1 January. The aforementioned female couple was thus finally allowed to pledge eternal fidelity to each other on 12 October 2018.
Taiwan (since 24 May 2019)
After the Taiwanese Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the current marriage law violated the Constitution, the government was given two years to amend the law. Conservative groups then organised large campaigns against the opening up and in an advisory referendum, almost three-quarters of Taiwanese said they were against it. Nevertheless, the law was changed, one week before the court’s deadline expired. “We have made Taiwan a better country,” tweeted Taiwan’s first female president Tsai Ing-Wen after the vote.
Ecuador (since 8 July 2019)
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in January 2018 that any country that signed the American Convention on Human Rights must legally treat LGBTQ persons equally. One of the few countries to comply was Ecuador, which on 12 June 2019 became the fifth Latin American country to have an open marriage. Immediately afterwards, people in the capital Quito and port city Guayaquil took to the streets with rainbow flags to celebrate the victory. Adoption is still not possible for Ecuadorian same-sex couples.
North Ireland (since 13 January 2020)
The majority of Northern Ireland’s parliament voted to open up marriage in 2015, but the conservative Christian Democratic Unionist Party blocked the law through a so-called petition of concern. After the 2017 elections, open marriage and abortion rights then became a politically divisive issue. For years, the government was suspended until the British Parliament in London ended the impasse. They voted in favour of opening up marriage and abolishing the abortion ban in 2019. In five of the UK’s 14 overseas territories, however, same-sex couples still do not have equal marriage rights.
Costa Rica (since 26 May 2020)
A ray of hope in times of corona. In Costa Rica, the first same-sex couples married in May last year. Their modest weddings – they had to abide by the corona measures – were broadcast live on television. Eighteen months earlier, the Costa Rican Supreme Court had ordered the government to make marriage legislation gender-neutral. The government took no action, so that marriage was automatically opened on 26 May. Costa Rica became the first Central American country where same-sex couples could marry.
Switzerland (from 1 January 2022?)
The Swiss government finally voted to open up marriage in 2020. Opponents then decided to collect signatures for a referendum. Joke’s on them, because in September 2021, a large majority of the population voted in favour of opening up. Because the law still has to be officially introduced, it may be a few months before same-sex couples can marry in Switzerland. Would this make an opening on 1 January 2022 a reality?
The Best of the Rest
In Mexico, same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry in all states, at least not without a court ruling. Mexico City, however, has had marriage equality since 2009. 19 of the 31 states have since followed suit.
In 2018, 46 members of parliament submitted a proposal to open up marriage. The government announced its support for the opening on 22 June 2018, making it appear that the Czech Republic would become the first post-communist country in Europe where same-sex couples could marry. However, the parliament and the Senate have yet to agree to the change in the law, and to date, the vote has been postponed time and again. Read more about the state of play in the Czech Republic.
Michele Bachelet of the Partido Socialista de Chile introduced a bill to open up marriage in 2017. On 15 January 2020, the Senate passed the proposal, but the House of Representatives has yet to approve the law.
This article was first published in the Dutch online magazine WINQ and translated from Dutch.