Gay Marriage: Where Is It Legal?

Padlocks with messages of love locked to bridge

Gay marriage has come a long way in recent years. Now legal in twenty countries and 32 US states, same-sex weddings are fast becoming the new normal. For gay and lesbian couples, it doesn’t just mean the opportunity for a ceremony or a certificate; it means acceptance. It means living, working and raising children in countries where the right to love and the right to be loved is inclusive rather than exclusive. 

Of course, nowhere is perfect. No place is entirely without discrimination or bigotry, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by the increasing number of countries where gay marriage is legal

  • In 2000, it was The Netherlands that first legalised gay marriage, and they did this by changing just a single line of text in the wording of their civil marriage law.  

  • Belgium legalised gay marriage in 2003, and, in 2006, it passed a law allowing gay couples to legally adopt children, too.

  • Canada legalised gay marriage in 2005. 

  • Spain legalised gay marriage in 2005 although, it wasn’t popular with everyone. Large-scale protests in Madrid and dissent from a small number of judges threatened to overshadow the good work of the country’s Parliament.

  • South Africa changed its law in 2006 to allow for gay marriage.

  •  Norway became the 6th country to legalise gay marriage in 2009. The law met with some resistance from The Christian Democratic Party and (in this instance the somewhat inappropriately named) Progress Party.  

  • Following its neighbour, the Swedish Parliament voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2009.

By 2009 Gay Marriage Was Legal in 7 Countries

Keeping up?  Gay and lesbian couples had the right to be married in:

The Netherlands




South Africa




Not bad, really. Remember, too, that this was in addition to legislation offering civil unions to same-sex couples. Denmark, for example, legalised civil partnerships in 1989: 11 years before the first gay weddings took place in The Netherlands
  • In 2010, Iceland became the 8th country to offer gay couples the right to marry. The bill was passed without any opposition and the country’s President became one of the first people to be married under it when she said I do to her long-term partner.  
  • After some political wrangling, Portugal legalised gay marriage in 2010.
  • Despite its long association with Catholicism, Argentina welcomed gay marriage into law in 2010.
  • Denmark’s Queen Margarethe gave her royal assent to a bill legalising gay marriage in 2012. The country had allowed civil unions since 1989, and two years previously it had granted gay couples the right to adopt children.
  • Uruguay was next in 2013, they give marital rights to gay and lesbian couples.
  • 2013 was a good year for same-sex couples in New Zealand, too, when the Parliament legalised not just gay marriage, but also gave full adopting rights to couples.
  • France was next, but their transition wasn’t as smooth. Large-scale protests and vocal opposition from French Catholic leaders and supporters threatened to overshadow the good work brought about by the bill. Of particular concern to religious leaders was the inclusion of laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. 
  • Then came Brazil and, again, another coup for gay rights in a country with a long association with Catholicism.

By 2013, the count for countries allowing gay marriage stood at 15. 

The Netherlands




South Africa








New Zealand



  • In March 2013, England and Wales celebrated the legalisation of gay marriage.  Scotland, being semi-autonomous, would have to wait a little while longer.  In an effort to appease religious critics, the law also sought to protect the sensitivities of the Church of England by granting them unequivocal exemption from having to perform same-sex ceremonies.

  • Almost a year later, Scotland, too, celebrated with its same-sex population as gay marriage became legal. 

  • Finland has become the last Nordic country to legalise gay weddings. In 2015, it was a people’s petition that brought the issue to the attention of the parliament. Unfortunately, same-sex couples will have to wait until 2017 before they're able to marry.

  • Finally, Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage as a result of a public vote. This was pretty amazing stuff when you consider that homosexuality has only been legal in the country since the early 90s.

Importantly, too, the referendum has encouraged other countries to try something similar. Let’s hope we see more emphatic yeses overi the coming months and years. 

  • We need to mention Greenland, too. Although technically a crown dependency of Denmark, the country is self-autonomous and voted recently to allow gay marriage in its country, too.
So those are the countries that allow gay marriage, but it isn't always as cut and dry in other areas of the world. Mexico, for example, had jurisdictions that allow same-sex marriages as well as those who do not. Follow the link for more information.

There’s certainly been a mixed-bag on LGBT rights in the United States, too. Presently, 37 US states recognise the legal right of same-sex couples to get married. You can follow the link for an up-to-date list of which states that do and which do not. 

Where do you think will be next? Let us know in the comments below.

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