Countries Allowing Same-Sex Marriage 

July 28, 2023

Same-sex marriage has been embraced by 31 countries around the world through legislation and court rulings. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize marriage equality in 2001, followed by Belgium and Spain.

New Zealand became the first Asian nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in April 2013. This interactive table lists those countries by name and the year they enacted their laws allowing same-sex marriage.

South Africa

In South Africa, the Constitution’s protection of equality and non-discrimination includes sex, gender, and sexual orientation. However, the Constitution makes no express reference to marriage, and its drafters opted not to codify it as a legal right.

In response to the constitutional challenge, the Government argued that international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, defines marriage as between two people. It also cited the judgment in Joslin v New Zealand and cases interpreting the Convention on Civil and Political Rights’ protection of equality and non-discrimination, which require South Africa to comply with international definitions of marriage.

In 2006, South Africa’s parliament enacted legislation allowing gay couples to marry. It included an opt-out clause, which allows religious institutions and civil officers to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings on moral grounds. As a result, some clergy and traditionalists have resisted the change. But many gay rights groups have welcomed the move.

The Netherlands

Two Dutch lawmakers led the charge to legalize same-sex marriage. They were joined by members of the governing coalition and some from the conservative opposition. The bill was passed in September 2000. In addition to bringing more equality to gay couples, the law also opened the door for same-sex couples to register their partnerships and thus receive benefits such as pensions, social security, and inheritances.

Twenty years ago, Dutch couple Gert Kasteel and Dolf Pasker married in the world’s first legally recognized same-sex wedding. During their ceremony, they watched as dozens of newsrooms sent cameras from around the globe to capture the historic moment.

Since then, the Netherlands has been at the forefront of LGBT rights. It’s also one of the countries that recognize same-sex marriages from other nations, a step that could help American couples who are in the process of getting their own marriages approved.


Belgians have long been at the forefront of gay rights, and the nation was the second country to allow same-sex marriage after the Netherlands. The law, which is now in the hands of parliament, would amend the civil code to give couples of the same sex almost the same legal status as heterosexuals. It would not, however, allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

Currently, Belgium does not recognize same-sex marriages from abroad. This can have a significant impact on inheritance, the management of common assets, and the legal recognition of cohabitation agreements.

But for Pierret and De Jonge, who met at a Christmas dance 16 years ago, the law marks a new phase in their relationship. They are now able to show their love in public, a small act that is making a huge difference to their lives and to the country. They are just one of the many same-sex couples now able to celebrate their wedding day in Belgium.


Canada was the fourth country to legalize gay marriage, but it took years of debate and several court battles. Prior to the national law, eight of the country’s ten provinces and one of its territories had already recognized same-sex marriages and offered some of the benefits associated with marriage.

Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien announces legislation making same-sex marriage legal, while permitting churches and other religious groups to sanctify the union as they see fit. The government agrees to not appeal two provincial court rulings allowing same-sex marriages.

The Canadian Parliament passes Bill C-38, which makes same-sex marriage legal nationwide. The new law also grants same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples. The national law takes effect on January 1, 2021.


Spain has become one of the world’s most progressive countries when it comes to same-sex marriage and family rights. Madrid hosts Europe’s biggest gay pride parade each year, and many of the city’s residents are openly homosexual.

But the country’s laws on access to parenthood continue to skew against male same-sex couples. While women may become mothers alone or as part of a same-sex couple, the conditions under which they can do so are far more restrictive than those for men.

The lower house of the Spanish parliament voted in favor of a government bill to allow homosexuals to marry and adopt children in 2022, but it has yet to be approved by the Senate. The law could face a challenge from the right-wing Vox party, which opposes it. Regardless, the Spanish government says it is committed to respecting civil and human rights. The country is a popular tourist destination for LGBT travelers, and there is widespread acceptance of gay families.