Since the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001, more than 30 countries around the world have followed suit.
On June 20, 2023, Estonia moved to become the first ex-Soviet bloc country to legalize the practice, with its new law taking effect next year.
Today, marriage equality is largely limited to countries in North and South America, Europe and Oceania. South Africa is the only country in Africa and Taiwan is the only country in Asia to have legalized same-sex marriage.
The Czech Republic, India, Japan, Philippines and Thailand could see developments in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2023, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Before Estonia, the most recent countries to legalize marriage equality were Cuba, Andorra and Slovenia, with all three doing so in 2022.
Estonia’s parliament approved same-sex marriage on June 20, 2023, becoming the first ex-Soviet and first Baltic country to do so. The decision will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Andorra’s parliament voted on July 21, 2022, to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples, a move that went into effect in early 2023. Prior to the landmark vote, same-sex couples in Andorra could enter civil unions, which were established in 2014.
Same-sex marriage was legalized following a national referendum in Cuba on Sept. 25, 2022. A majority of Cubans voted for a family code that allowed same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, among other provisions focused on women, children and the elderly.
On July 9, 2022, the Constitutional Court of Slovenia ruled in a 6-3 vote that bans on same-sex marriage and adoption were unconstitutional. While the court’s decision took effect immediately, it gave the country’s parliament six months to amend laws to agree with the ruling. The country’s parliament passed an amendment codifying same-sex marriage in October.
Chile’s president signed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the Latin American country in 2021, with the law going into effect in March 2022. The vote was the culmination of a four-year effort beginning with the introduction of a bill in 2017.
Same-sex marriage in Mexico first became legal in Mexico City, the country’s capital, where the practice was legalized following the passage of legislation in 2009. And while Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that state bans against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional in 2015, it took some states years to fall in line with the ruling. Tamaulipas was the last of Mexico’s 32 states to codify same-sex marriage, which it did in October 2022.
Switzerland held a countrywide referendum in 2021 on the questions of legalizing same-sex marriage and giving such couples the right to adopt. The referendum was passed with nearly a two-thirds majority at 64.1%. The country’s first legal same-sex marriages took place on July 1, 2022.
Costa Rica: 2020
Following a push by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and would be nullified automatically in 18 months if lawmakers took no action. So, at midnight on May 26, 2020, same-sex marriage was legalized in Costa Rica, making it the first country in Central America to do so.
Northern Ireland: 2020
Northern Ireland did not join the rest of the United Kingdom in legalizing same-sex marriages in 2014. In 2019, the U.K. Parliament passed the Northern Ireland Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland on Jan. 13, 2020, if Northern Ireland’s legislature did not agree to a power-sharing agreement to reconstitute by then. When legislators failed to meet that deadline, the law took effect. The first same-sex marriages took place in Northern Ireland in February 2020.
Ecuador legally recognized same-sex marriage after a majority of judges in its highest court ruled in favor of a gay couple suing the country’s civil registry. The couple’s marriage request had been denied due to their orientations. The ruling took effect in July of that year.
Taiwanese lawmakers approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on the island, becoming the first Asian jurisdiction to do so. The bill’s passage came nearly two years after Taiwan’s Constitutional Court found a law deeming marriage as between a man and a woman to be unconstitutional.
Austria’s high court ruled in 2017 that barring couples from marrying on the grounds of sexual orientation is discriminatory. Legalization officially went into effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2019.
Australia’s Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage following a postal survey that showed Australian citizens were largely in support of the change. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a measure that defines a marriage as “a union of two people.”
Maltese lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage across the Mediterranean island. The decision was in line with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s campaign promise to make such a law the first brought before Parliament in his first term.
German lawmakers voted in favor of same-sex marriage in late June 2017 in a move that was widely supported across the country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure, but permitted members of her conservative coalition to vote in favor based on their conscience. The country’s first same-sex marriages took place on Oct. 1, 2017.
The Finland Parliament passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in November 2014, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto signed the bill into law in February 2015, though it did not take effect until March 2017.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Colombia in late April 2016 after the country’s top court ruledsuch marriages constitutional. Previously, same-sex couples were permitted to enter civil partnerships.
The parliament of Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in May 2015. The law took effect in April 2016 in the wake of approval by Danish lawmakers and royal assent. Greenland was not previously subject to Denmark’s same-sex marriage law approved in 2012.
United States: 2015
Though some American states approved of same-sex marriage as early as 2003, the practice did not become legal nationwide until June 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry and that states must recognize those marriages. The decision followed a shift in American public opinion in support of such marriages.
Ireland legalized same-sex marriage through a popular referendum in late May 2015, making it the first country to legalize such marriages by popular vote. In 2017, Leo Varadkar was elected as the country’s first openly gay prime minister.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Luxembourg on Jan. 1, 2015, following a bill passed by the country’s Chamber of Deputies in June 2014. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is openly gay, supported the measure and became the first leader of the European Union to marry his partner.
The Scottish Parliament passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage in February 2014 and the law took effect later that year. Same-sex couples, who were previously permitted to enter civil partnerships, began to marry in December.
England and Wales: 2014
Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to a provision legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales in July 2013. The British Parliament had passed the measure the day before her approval. The law was a priority for then-Prime Minister David Cameron. The first legal same-sex marriages in England took place in March 2014.
Brazil’s National Council of Justice decided in 2013 that same-sex couples should be permitted to obtain marriage licenses.
French President Francois Hollande gave final approval to a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2013, signing a measure that had met great challenges from the country’s conservative opposition party.
New Zealand: 2013
New Zealand’s Parliament officially approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriages in April 2013. The measure received royal assent days later, and the approval made the country the first in the Asia-Pacific region to allow same-sex couples to wed, with the first marriages taking place in October.
Uruguay followed Argentina as the second country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage when former President Jose Mujica signed the country’s bill into law in early May 2013. Previously, the nation had allowed same-sex couples to enter civil unions.
Denmark’s Queen Margerethe II gave her royal assent to the country’s same-sex marriage bill days after Denmark’s legislature passed the legislation in June 2012. The country was the first to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships in 1989.
Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage in July 2010.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Portugal in June 2010 when legislation passed earlier that year took effect. The law was passed by the Portuguese Parliament in January, reviewed by the country’s Constitutional Court in April and ratified by the nation’s president in May of that year.
Iceland’s Parliament unanimously approved a bill legalizing gender-neutral marriages on June 11, 2010. Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir made history in February 2009 when she became the country’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay head of government.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Sweden on May 1, 2009, following the enactment of a marriage law passed by the Swedish Parliament in early April. The country had permitted civil unions for same-sex couples since 1995.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Norway on Jan. 1, 2009, following the enactment of a bill passed by Norwegian lawmakers in June the year before. That 2008 law replaced a 1993 law that permitted civil unions for same-sex couples.
South Africa: 2006
The South African Parliament legalized same-sex marriage in late November 2006, nearly one year after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that previous marriage laws were unconstitutional. South Africa became the first country in Africa and the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to legalize the practice.
The push for legalized same-sex marriage in Spain largely began in 2004 under the government led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The next year, the country’s parliament passed an approval bill in late June 2005 and the law officially took effect in early July.
Same-sex marriage legalization spread through Canada’s provinces beginning in 2003 in a series of court cases. A law approved by the country’s federal legislature legalizing same-sex marriage took effect in July 2005.
Belgium became the second country to legalize same-sex marriage in late January 2003 after Parliament overwhelmingly supported a new law granting same-sex couples rights similar to those of heterosexual couples. The legislation took effect later that year.
Same-sex Dutch couples gained marriage and adoption rights through measures approved in late December 2000. The legislation took effect the following April and set the tone for future legislation across the globe.