It’s an exciting time to be on the front lines of the movement for LGBT rights and marriage equality. We’re in the midst of a global societal shift towards greater acceptance of same sex partners and the status quo is changing quickly. Of the seventeen countries that recognize same sex marriage, eight have done so in just the last four years.
In the United States we’re seeing profound shifts in public opinion and the courts (and in some cases legislatures) are moving in the right direction. While there have been some setbacks the trajectory is increasingly clear, marriage equality is on the march! Let’s take a look at the international scene. There is a lot to celebrate.
The Dutch were the first to get there. The journey was by no means an overnight success. Instead a steady series of anti-discrimination laws beginning in 1983, a civil partnership law in 1998 affording many of the same rights, and finally in 2011 true marriage equality. Credit for the push for LGBT rights goes in no small part to Dutch Catholics, some of the most progressive Catholic worshipers in the world.
Parade to celebrate of The Netherland’s legislation.
The path towards freedom to marry began in Belgium with a bill introduced in 1995 to establish a legal framework for unmarried cohabitating couples. Several political parties collaborated to expand civil rights to full fledged freedom to marry in 2003.
Prime Minister Zapatero
After Parliament approved marriage equality in 2005 Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's said: "We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven ... by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality." In 2012 Spain’s Constitutional Court reaffirmed the constitutional right to marry for all Spaniards and legal residents.
In 2005 Canada’s government followed the lead of many provinces and territories and instituted a gender-neutral definition of marriage. Prime Minister Paul Martin, explained, "We've come to the realization that instituting civil unions — adopting a 'separate but equal' approach — would violate the equality provisions of the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms]. We've confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms."
Wedding photo from South Africa. source
In 2006 South Africa became the first African nation to recognize same sex marriage. The Constitutional Court forced the issue giving Parliament a year to enact marriage equality legislation. Parliament overwhelming passed a bill granting equal rights to all South Africans.
As of January 1, 2009 Norway joined the ranks of nations offering equal rights to same sex partners. Family Issues minister Anniken Huitfeldt noted, "The new law won't weaken marriage as an institution. Rather, it will strengthen it. Marriage won't be worth less because more can take part in it."
Close on the heals of it’s neighbor Norway, the Swedish Parliament replaced civil unions with the right to marry in the spring of 2009. The Church of Sweden joined with the government and sanctioned same-sex weddings.
2010 saw both the ratification of a law ending the exclusion of same-sex partners and a Constitutional Court backing of the law. It was a decisive win for Portuguese advocates for equal rights.
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir Former Prime Minister of Iceland
Iceland’s parliament voted unanimously to change its definition of marriage to include “man and man, woman and woman” in 2010. Just a year prior, the island country elected the world’s first openly gay head of state!
2010 was a big year for freedom to marry efforts. Argentina joined the party as the first Latin American nation to offer equal rights and protections for same sex partners including the right to marry and adopt.
Denmark came on board a little later than its Scandinavian neighbors, legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012. However, Denmark was the first country to grant same-sex partners the same legal and fiscal rights as married couples through registered partnerships. They did that way back in 1989!
Marriage Equality demonstrators celebrating in Rio. source
Brazil was well on its way towards freedom to marry even before a 2013 court ruling made it a right for all citizens. Over the last several years a patchwork of laws were made at the state and regional levels to include LGBT persons. The 2013 court case decision starts to clear up the confusion and simply grant equal freedoms and protections to all Brazilian citizens that want to marry.
The National Assembly easily passed their bill granting all their citizens the freedom to marry. François Hollande signed the legislation in May of 2013. Vive la France!
It may seem surprising that deeply Catholic Latin American countries would be so supportive of freedom to marry efforts, but it’s increasingly clear that Latin America is leading the charge. Uruguay’s legislature moved to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from their definition of marriage in late summer 2013.
It takes not only open-minded legislatures, but leadership from heads of state. That was the case in New Zealand where Parliament approved the bill and Prime Minister John Key quickly signed it in August of 2013. Prime Minister Key had been a vocal supporter during the legislative process.
The Queen of England put her stamp of approval on legislation passed easily by the House of Commons and House of Lords in 2013. Scotland followed suit and by the end of this year, same-sex marriages will be happening throughout the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland).
The newest revision to legislation regarding marriage happened just this summer in Luxembourg. Same-sex couples there will be free to marry as soon as January 2015!
Just last month, Finland joined its Scandinavian neighbors in passing a same-sex marriage bill. While the bill is not yet law, Finland stands to become the 12th European Union nation to grant LGBT persons the right to marry. Finland’s parliamentary vote came in response to a citizens initiative! Finland’s Lutheran Church has also come out in support.
Mexico, Columbia, and Australia are working on it. They’re joining a growing list of countries whose courts or legislatures are making great strides towards joining these first 18 countries. The breakthroughs for advocates of freedom to marry around the world should provide a great deal of hope and motivation. Ben & Jerry’s will continue to add our voice to the global chorus for equal rights.