The Republic of Ireland is holding a nationwide referendum today, May 22, to decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. This could make Ireland the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage via popular vote. A recent poll indicates that upwards of 78% of the population will vote in favor.
Although gay couples in the US continue to wait in marital limbo, over a dozen countries around the world have already made same-sex marriage legal. Here’s a look how the 16 cases of national gay-marriage legalization have played out:
On April 1, 2001, the Kingdom of the Netherlands became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage. The Dutch parliament voted 107 to 33 to eliminate discriminatory language from the country’s marriage laws.
The southern neighbors of the Dutch followed suit on February 13, 2003, when King Albert II approved a bill passed by the Belgian parliament. Three years later, another bill allowed same-sex couples to adopt.
Marriage equality in Spain came about largely thanks to the victory of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party during the 2004 elections. Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero presented a bill to parliament, which voted 187 to 147 in favor of legalization on July 20, 2005. Conservative Catholics in the political establishment consistently tried to reverse the law until 2012, when the country’s supreme court deemed marriage equality a constitutional right, and thus immune from repeal.
The Canadian House of Commons passed the Civil Marriage Act on June 28, 2005, which the senate approved on July 19. The act stipulated a gender-neutral definition of marriage. By that point more than three-quarters of Canada’s provinces and territories had already legalized same-sex marriage themselves.
In 2004, South Africa’s supreme court ruled that denying the right to marry to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The court gave parliamentarians one year to adjust standing marriage legislation accordingly. On November 14, 2006, parliament voted 230 to 41 to do so, making South Africa the first country on the African continent to nationally recognize marriage equality.
Norway became the first of the famously liberal Nordic countries to legalize national marriage equality. On June 11, 2008, members of parliament voted for it 84 to 41, spearheaded by a coalition of the country’s Labour, Center, and Socialist Left parties.
Sweden followed Norway’s lead on April 1, 2009, when the parliament in Stockholm voted to overturn a law excluding same-sex couples from marriage by a vote of 261 to 22. Up until then, Swedish gay couples had been able to form a union through “registered partnerships.” Later that year, the Church of Sweden followed up by publicly approving the right of same-sex couples to use the term “marriage” for weddings in church.
Portugal’s parliament approved a marriage-equality bill in January of 2010. The supreme court affirmed the law’s constitutionality in April of that year, and it came into force in June.
Iceland became the first country whose legislature approved marriage equality unanimously. The 49 to zero vote took place on June 11, 2010. The year before, Iceland had become the first country in the world to elect an openly gay head of state, prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.
Argentina was the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage equality nationally. The bill was approved by the Argentine Congress 33 to 27, and was signed into law by president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on July 21, 2010.
Denmark was the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to register with the government through civil partnerships in 1989, giving them the same legal and financial rights as heterosexual married couples (affecting inheritance laws, etc.). In January 2012, prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt proposed a gender-neutral marriage bill that passed through parliament by a vote of 84 to 24. The law took effect on June 15, 2012.
On May 14, 2013, Brazil’s supreme court ruled it unconstitutional for the government to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Marriage equality was already in force in over half the country’s states before the ruling made it national.
The French legislature approved national marriage equality in April of 2013, by votes of 329 to 229 in the National Assembly and 179 to 157 in the Senate. The bill survived a challenge in the constitutional court, following which president François Hollande signed it into law on May 17.
Same-sex marriage for England and Wales was approved by Parliament in Westminster in July 2013, and the Scottish Parliament followed suit in February 2014, with each decision coming into force some months later. Same-sex marriage remains unrecognized in Northern Ireland; the most recent attempt to pass a bill in the province’s regional assembly was defeated in April 2015.
Uruguay became the third Latin American country to approve same-sex marriage after president José Mujica signed a bill in May 2013.
New Zealand’s parliament voted to approve a marriage-equality bill in April of 2013. The first same-sex weddings took place on August 19 of that year.
The Finnish parliament approved an amendment extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in November of 2014. The vote passed 105 to 92 in favor, and included adoption rights. The law does not take effect, however, until March 2017, to allow time to make changes to other related legislation.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s chamber of deputies approved a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in June 2014. The law took effect on January 1 of this year.
Potential forthcoming legalization
- Slovenia’s parliament approved a marriage-equality bill in March of 2015. It is now awaiting signature by president Borut Pahor.
- Individual states in the United States maintain the right to decide their own marriage laws. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. In April this year, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could lead to national legalization of same-sex marriage, and is expected to rule in June or July.
- Mexico’s legislature voted 39 to 20 to approve same-sex marriage in March 2010. The country’s supreme court affirmed the bill’s constitutionality in August of that year—but individual states still maintain the right to define marriage for themselves. Currently, same-sex marriage is recognized in Mexico City and Quintana Roo. Though marriage restrictions in Oaxaca were deemed unconstitutional, marriage rights have only been granted to three couples who filed a suit against the regional government.