Feb. 19, 2013 (TSR) – MPs have backed a bill to allow same-sex couples to get married in England and Wales, while the French National Assembly last week approved the most important article of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
But where in the world can same-sex couples already get married?
Just after midnight on 1 April 2001, four couples – Anne-Marie Thus and Helene Faasen, and three male couples – were married by the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, in the first legal gay marriage ceremony in the world.
“We are so ordinary, if you saw us on the street you’d just walk right past us,” said Anne-Marie Thus of the fuss over the televised City Hall ceremony.
“The only thing that’s going to take some getting used to is calling her my spouse.”
Denmark was the first country to introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples, in 1989, but it stopped short of allowing church weddings.
Countries including Norway, Sweden and Iceland followed suit in allowing partnerships offering many – but not all – of the rights and obligations of marriage.
But it was left to the Netherlands to lead the way in allowing gay marriage, which included granting same-sex couples the right to adopt children.
It was a move welcomed by international gay rights groups as a huge step forward.
A few weeks after neighbours Belgium followed the Netherlands’ example in June 2003, the Vatican – in an attempt to stop further legislation – launched a global campaign against gay marriage.
In a strongly-worded 12-page document, Pope John Paul II’s chief theological adviser Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – who would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI – warned that homosexual unions were immoral, unnatural and harmful.
Two years later, despite a 600,000-strong petition organised by a Catholic group and a rally in Madrid opposing it, same-sex marriage was introduced in Spain.
Emilio Menendez and his American partner of 30 years, Carlos Baturin German, became the first gay couple to tie the knot in Spain, at a ceremony in Tres Cantos, outside Madrid, on 11 July 2005.
Days later, Canada – where same-sex marriage had already been permitted in most provinces since 2003 – became the fourth country to introduce national legislation.
With the US slow to follow – a federal law still prevents US recognition of gay marriage and many states have enacted outright bans – thousands of gay Americans have visited Canada to get married since 2003.
Same-sex marriage is now allowed in nine American states as well as the District of Columbia.
South Africa, in November 2006, became the first African country to bring in marriage for gay couples – despite homosexuality remaining taboo in large parts of the continent.
That followed a 2004 Supreme Court of Appeal ruling – brought by lesbian couple Marie Fourie and Cecilia Bonthuys – that existing marriage laws discriminated against same-sex couples.
Gay marriage timeline
Netherlands: On April 1, 2001 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, with the same rights as heterosexuals. Includes the right to adopt.
Belgium: Homosexual couples in Belgium have almost the same rights as heterosexuals. They won the right to marry in 2003 and in 2006 parliament voted into law a bill allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.
Spain: In 2005 Spain became the third member of the European Union to pass a law allowing same-sex marriages. Gay couples can adopt children, whether they are married or not.
Canada: Canada adopted a national law allowing gays to marry and adopt in July 2005, though most provinces had already allowed same-sex unions before that date.
South Africa: The country legalised same-sex unions and adoptions by gay couples in November 2006, becoming the first African nation to do so.
Norway: A 2009 law allowed homosexuals to marry and adopt children. Civil partnerships have existed in the country for 20 years.
Sweden: Sweden’s homosexuals have been allowed to wed in religious or civil ceremonies since May 2009.
Portugal: Under a 2010 law Portugal legalised gay marriage, while excluding the right to adoption.
Iceland: Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir married her long-time partner in June 2010 as a new law legalising homosexual marriages came into force. Same-sex couples who have lived together for at least five years have had the right to adopt children since 2006.
Argentina: Gays in Argentina became the first on the South American continent to be able to wed and adopt, after legislation passed on July 14, 2010.
Denmark: Denmark, the first country in the world to allow gay couples to enter into civil unions in 1989, voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing homosexuals to marry in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church in June 2012.
Uruguay: Uruguay voted in April 2013 to allow same-sex marriages nationwide, making it only the second Latin American country to do so.
New Zealand: New Zealand on April 17 2013 became the first Asia-Pacific country to legalise same-sex marriage, after a decades-long campaign.
France: French President Francois Hollande signs gay marriage and same – sex adoption bills in to law on May 18, 2013, making it one of the biggest social reforms in France since the abolition of death penalty in 1981.
Gay couples can marry in nine US states, as well as in the capital Washington, while parts of Mexico also allow same-sex marriage.
Brazil this month gave a de facto green light to same-sex marriages after its National Council of Justice ruled that government offices could issue marriage licenses to gay couples without having to wait for Congress to pass a law allowing gay unions.
Britain: Same-sex couples in Britain have had the right to live in civil partnerships since 2005 but cannot marry. British lawmakers voted in February in favour of controversial legislation allowing gay marriage, despite fierce opposition from members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party.
The bill has since been scrutinised by a committee of lawmakers and will be debated again in the lower House of Commons on Monday, followed by a vote on Tuesday. If the vote passes, the bill will go before the upper chamber, the House of Lords, before becoming law.
A number of other countries have adopted laws that recognise civil partnerships and give couples more or less the same rights as heterosexuals.
Countries to have recognised civil unions without yet accepting gay marriage include Germany (2001), Finland (2002), the Czech Republic (2006), Switzerland (2007) and Colombia and Ireland (both 2011).
In January 2009, Norway became the sixth country to introduce gay marriage followed, in May of the the same year, by Sweden, while a further three countries followed suit in 2010.
Divorced mothers Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao became the first in Portugal, in June 2010 – a month after the law they had campaigned for came into effect – and hailed it as a “great victory, a dream come true”.
The socialist government in the mainly Catholic country faced fierce opposition from campaigners who ultimately failed to get enough support for a referendum.
Later that month, Iceland’s prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir married her partner, writer Jonina Leosdottir, on the day the country’s gay marriage law came into force.
In July 2010, meanwhile, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalise gay marriage.
Up until then, Mexico City had been the only place in the region where same-sex marriage was allowed.
And, in June last year, Denmark became the 11th country to approve same-sex marriage – 23 years after it became the first country in the world to recognise gay civil partnerships.