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Same Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage, the practice of marriage between two men or between two women. Although same-sex marriage has been regulated through law, religion, and custom in most countries of the world, the legal and social responses have ranged from celebration on the one hand to criminalization on the other.

Some scholars, most notably the Yale professor and historian John Boswell (1947-94), have argued that same-sex unions were recognized by the Roman Catholic Church in medieval Europe, although others have disputed this claim. Scholars and the general public became increasingly interested in the issue during the late 20th century, a period when attitudes toward homosexuality and laws regulating homosexual behaviour were liberalized, particularly in western Europe and the United States.

The issue of same-sex marriage frequently sparked emotional and political clashes between supporters and opponents. By the early 21st century, several jurisdictions, both at the national and subnational levels, had legalized same-sex marriage; in other jurisdictions, constitutional measures were adopted to prevent same-sex marriages from being sanctioned, or laws were enacted that refused to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. That the same act was evaluated so differently by various groups indicates its importance as a social issue in the early 21st century; it also demonstrates the extent to which cultural diversity persisted both within and among countries.

Same-sex marriage and the law
Societies have resolved the intertwined issues of sexuality, reproduction, and marriage in myriad ways. Their responses regarding the morality, desirability, and administrative perquisites of same-sex partnerships have been equally diverse. Notably, however, by the beginning of the 21st century most countries opted for one of only three legal resolutions to these intersecting problems: to ignore same-sex partnerships, to criminalize them, or to grant them a status similar or equal to that of heterosexual marriage. Many countries have yet to reach a consensus on these issues.

As noted above, many societies traditionally chose to ignore the issue of same-sex marriage by treating same-sex intimacy as a subject unsuitable for discussion. Many of these jurisdictions, as well as those that actively criminalize same-sex unions, contended that homosexuality and lesbianism are mental disorders and built their public policies on this premise. In treating same-sex desire as a psychiatric illness, these cultures moved same-sex intimacy and marriage from the realm of civil regulations (the domain of contract law) to that of public safety (the domain of criminal law). In such societies, the possibility of arrest or institutionalization further reinforced taboos on same-sex intimacy and discussions thereof, typically driving such activities underground.

International
In the early 21st century the countries that most seriously penalized same-sex relations tended to be in deeply conservative regions of the world, particularly Islamic theocracies and some parts of Asia and Africa. They often proscribed behaviours that other countries viewed as subject to moral, rather than legal, regulation. The judicial systems of many predominantly Muslim countries, for instance, invoke Islamic law (Sharīah) in a wide range of contexts.

A variety of sexual or quasi-sexual acts, usually including same-sex intimacy, were criminalized in these countries, and the penalties for these acts could be as severe as execution. However, in a notable show of support for transgender individuals in the late 20th century, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a legal decree, or fatwa, supporting gender-reassignment surgery when undertaken by individuals who wished to "fix" their physiology and thus become heterosexual in the eyes of the law.

In contrast, the acceptance of same-sex partnerships was particularly apparent in northern Europe and in countries with cultural ties to that region. In 1989 Denmark became the first country to establish registered partnerships-an attenuated version of marriage-for same-sex couples. Soon thereafter similar laws, generally using specific vocabulary (e.g., civil union, civil partnership, domestic partnership, registered partnership) to differentiate same-sex unions from heterosexual marriages, went into effect in Norway (1993), Sweden (1995), Iceland (1996), the Netherlands (1998), and elsewhere in Europe, including the United Kingdom (2005) and Ireland (2011).

Interestingly-and perhaps as a reflection of tensions between the marriage-for-procreation and marriage-for-community-good positions discussed above-many European countries initially prevented same-sex couples from adoption and artificial insemination; by 2007, however, most of these restrictions had been removed.

Outside Europe, some jurisdictions also adopted some form of same-sex partnership rights; Israel recognized common-law same-sex marriage in the mid-1990s (the Israeli Supreme Court further ruled in 2006 that same-sex marriages performed abroad should be recognized), and same-sex civil unions went into effect in New Zealand (2005) and in parts of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico in the early 21st century. In 2007 Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex civil unions nationwide; the legislation became effective the following year.

In 2005 Canada became the first country outside Europe to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. Thereafter, South Africa (2006) and Argentina (2010) were the first African and Latin American countries, respectively, to legalize same-sex marriage. New Zealand (2013) became the first country in Oceania to do so. Elsewhere, Bermuda legalized same-sex marriage in 2017, but the following year it passed a bill that replaced such marriages with domestic partnerships. Bermuda thus became the first country to repeal same-sex marriage.

The future of same-sex marriage
At the turn of the 21st century it was clear that the evolution of rights for same-sex couples depended to a great extent upon the interplay of a country's institutional forces. In parliamentary unitary systems, such as those of the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom, for example, legislatures (and the executives derived from them) were instrumental in the success or failure of such laws. In other countries, particularly those with federal political systems and strong judiciaries, such as Canada, South Africa, and the United States, the courts played a vital role. For yet another group of polities, such as Switzerland and many U.S. states, institutional rules enabled voters to take a direct role in the passage or rejection of legislation.

In countries where consensus has yet to be reached on this issue, the debate is unlikely to be resolved quickly or easily. In some parts of the world, such as those plagued by war or natural disasters, same-sex marriage is simply not an urgent matter. In others, the broad spectrum of notions about sexuality and the purpose of marriage is compounded by national pluralism and a tendency for secularism and religiosity to intersect in complex and unexpected ways.

Same-sex marriage around the world
The table provides a list of countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, as well as selected countries that offer some other legal status for same-sex couples.

Countries with same-sex marriage 1
country year effective
Argentina 2010
Australia 2018
Austria 2019
Belgium 2003
Brazil 2013
Canada 2005
Colombia 2016
Costa Rica 2020
Denmark 2020-22
Ecuador 2019
Finland 2017
France 2013
Germany 2017
Iceland 2010
Ireland 2015
Luxembourg 2015
Malta 2017
Netherlands 2001
New Zealand 2013
Norway 2021-2023
Portugal 2009
South Africa 2010
Spain 2006
Sweden 2005
United Kingdom 2009
United States 2015
Uruguay 2013


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