See Article History Alternative Titles: 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.
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. For tables on same-sex marriage around the world, in the United States, and in Australia, see below. Cultural ideals of marriage and sexual partnership Perhaps the earliest systematic analyses of marriage and kinship were conducted by the Swiss legal historian Johann Jakob Bachofen and the American ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan ; by the midth century an enormous variety of marriage and sexual customs across cultures had been documented by such scholars.
Notably, they found that most cultures expressed an ideal form of marriage and an ideal set of marriage partners, while also practicing flexibility in the application of those ideals. Among the more common forms so documented were common-law marriage ; morganatic marriage , in which titles and property do not pass to children; exchange marriage , in which a sister and a brother from one family marry a brother and a sister from another; and group marriages based on polygyny co-wives or polyandry co-husbands.
Ideal matches have included those between cross-cousins , between parallel cousins, to a group of sisters in polygyny or brothers in polyandry , or between different age sets. In many cultures the exchange of some form of surety, such as bride service, bridewealth , or dowry , has been a traditional part of the marriage contract. Cultures that openly accepted homosexuality, of which there were many, generally had nonmarital categories of partnership through which such bonds could be expressed and socially regulated.
Conversely, other cultures essentially denied the existence of same-sex intimacy, or at least deemed it an unseemly topic for discussion of any sort. Religious and secular expectations of marriage and sexuality Over time the historical and traditional cultures originally recorded by the likes of Bachofen and Morgan slowly succumbed to the homogenization imposed by colonialism. Although a multiplicity of marriage practices once existed, conquering nations typically forced local cultures to conform to colonial belief and administrative systems.
Whether Egyptian, Vijayanagaran, Roman, Ottoman, Mongol, Chinese, European, or other, empires have long fostered or, in some cases, imposed the widespread adoption of a relatively small number of religious and legal systems. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the perspectives of one or more of the world religions— Buddhism , Hinduism , Judaism , Islam , and Christianity —and their associated civil practices were often invoked during national discussions of same-sex marriage.
Perhaps because systems of religion and systems of civil authority often reflect and support each other, the countries that had reached consensus on the issue by the early s tended to have a single dominant religious affiliation across the population; many such places had a single, state-sponsored religion.
This was the case in both Iran, where a strong Muslim theocracy had criminalized same-sex intimacy, and Denmark , where the findings of a conference of Evangelical Lutheran bishops representing the state religion had helped smooth the way for the first national recognition of same-sex relationships through registered partnerships. In other cases, the cultural homogeneity supported by the dominant religion did not result in the application of doctrine to the civic realm but may nonetheless have fostered a smoother series of discussions among the citizenry: Belgium and Spain had legalized same-sex marriage, for instance, despite official opposition from their predominant religious institution, the Roman Catholic Church.
The existence of religious pluralities within a country seems to have had a less determinate effect on the outcome of same-sex marriage debates. In some such countries, including the United States , consensus on this issue was difficult to reach. On the other hand, the Netherlands —the first country to grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples —was religiously diverse , as was Canada , which did so in Most of the world religions have at some points in their histories opposed same-sex marriage for one or more of the following stated reasons: In the early 21st century, however, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism all spoke with more than one voice on this issue.
Orthodox Judaism opposed same-sex marriage, while the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative traditions allowed for it. Most Christian denominations opposed it, while the United Church of Christ , the United Church of Canada , and the Religious Society of Friends Quakers took a more favourable stand or allowed individual churches autonomy in the matter. The Unitarian Universalist churches and the gay-oriented Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches fully accepted same-sex marriage.
Hinduism , without a sole leader or hierarchy , allowed some Hindus to accept the practice while others were virulently opposed. The three major schools of Buddhism —Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana—stressed the attainment of enlightenment as a basic theme; most Buddhist literature therefore viewed all marriage as a choice between the two individuals involved. Sexuality is but one of many areas where religious and civic authority interact; definitions of the purpose of marriage is another.
In one view, the purpose of marriage is to ensure successful procreation and child rearing. A third perspective holds that marriage is an instrument of societal domination and so is not desirable. A fourth is that relationships between consenting adults should not be regulated by the government.
Although most religions subscribe to just one of these beliefs, it is not uncommon for two or more viewpoints to coexist within a given society. Proponents of the first view believe that the primary goal of marriage is to provide a relatively uniform social institution through which to produce and raise children. In their view, because male and female are both necessary for procreation, the privileges of marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples.
In other words, partnerships involving sexual intimacy should have at least a notional potential for procreation. From this perspective, the movement to legally recognize same-sex marriage is a misguided attempt to deny the social, moral , and biological distinctions that foster the continued existence of society and so should be discouraged. Among groups who feel strongly that same-sex marriage is problematic, there is also a tendency for the legal relationships of spouses, parents, and children to converge.
Typically, these societies provide for the automatic inheritance of property between spouses, and between parents and children, and allow these close kin to co-own property without joint ownership contracts. In addition, such societies often allow close kin a variety of automatic privileges such as sponsoring immigration visas or making medical decisions for one another; for those with whom one shares no close kin relationship, these privileges typically require legal interventions.
Such legal circumventions are usually more difficult for, and in some cases even prohibited to, same-sex couples. In contrast to the procreative model of marriage, advocates of the legalization of same-sex marriage generally believed that committed partnerships involving sexual intimacy are valuable because they draw people together to a singular degree and in singular ways.
In this view, such relationships are intrinsically worthy while also quite distinct from though not incompatible with activities associated with the bearing or raising of children.
Sexual partnerships are one of a number of factors that bond adults together into stable household units. These households, in turn, form the foundation of a productive society—a society in which, albeit incidentally, children, elders, and others who may be relatively powerless are likely to be protected. From this perspective, the devaluation of same-sex intimacy is immoral because it constitutes arbitrary and irrational discrimination , thereby damaging the community.
Most same-sex marriage advocates further held that international human rights legislation provided a universal franchise to equal treatment under the law. Thus, prohibiting a specific group from the full rights of marriage was illegally discriminatory.
For advocates of the community-benefit perspective, all the legal perquisites associated with heterosexual marriage should be available to any committed couple. For these reasons, they maintained that consensual intimacy between adults should not be regulated and that marriage should be disestablished as a cultural institution.
A fourth view, libertarianism , had different premises from queer theory but somewhat similar ramifications; it proposed that government powers should be strictly limited, generally to the tasks of maintaining civil order, infrastructure , and defense. For libertarians, marriage legislation of any sort—either the legalization or the prohibition of same-sex marriage—fell outside of the role of government and was unacceptable.
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: Many countries have yet to reach a consensus on these issues. See also marriage law.
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. 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. In contrast, the acceptance of same-sex partnerships was particularly apparent in northern Europe and in countries with cultural ties to that region. In 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. 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 , 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 mids the Israeli Supreme Court further ruled in that same-sex marriages performed abroad should be recognized , and same-sex civil unions went into effect in New Zealand and in parts of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico in the early 21st century.
In Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex civil unions nationwide; the legislation became effective the following year. In the Netherlands revised its same-sex partnership law and the following year became the first country to offer marriage to same-sex couples; several other European countries subsequently legalized gay marriage.
In the European Union mandated that all of its members pass laws recognizing the same-sex marriages of fellow EU countries. As countries began to legalize same-sex partnerships, public opinion , particularly in Europe, began to shift in favour of full marriage rights for same-sex unions. For example, by the middle of the first decade of the s, a Eurobarometer poll carried out by the European Commission found that four-fifths of the citizens of the Netherlands felt that same-sex marriage should be legal throughout Europe; in a further seven countries Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg , Spain, Germany , and the Czech Republic , a majority held a similar view.
Nevertheless, in other parts of Europe, particularly central and southern Europe, support for same-sex marriage was quite low, often with fewer than one-fifth of those polled favouring legalization. By the following decade, polls indicated that roughly one-half of British citizens approved of legalizing same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom ; such marriages were legalized in England and Wales in , and Scotland followed suit in In Canada became the first country outside Europe to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.
Thereafter, South Africa and Argentina were the first African and Latin American countries, respectively, to legalize same-sex marriage. New Zealand became the first country in Oceania to do so. Elsewhere, Bermuda legalized same-sex marriage in , 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. In other countries, decisions on same-sex marriage were effectively turned over to individual states or districts.
In the Federal District Mexico City , separate from other Mexican jurisdictions, legalized same-sex marriage. Gay marriage was later made legal, under the same terms, elsewhere in the country. Similarly, shortly after Brazil legalized same-sex civil unions in , the Supreme Federal Court ruled that sexual orientation could not be a pretext for denying a couple the legal protections of marriage, although it stopped short of specifically authorizing same-sex marriage at the federal level.
In response, several Brazilian states separately opted to allow for same-sex marriages, which were considered valid throughout Brazil, before the National Council of Justice approved a resolution in ensuring that such unions could be registered anywhere in the country. In a majority of Australians voted for same-sex marriage in a nonbinding referendum. United States In the United States the question of whether couples of the same sex should be allowed to marry has roiled politics since at least The state, in turn, argued that it had a compelling interest in preventing same-sex marriage, as that practice would inherently damage the public good.
Soon after this finding, Hawaiian legislators added such a definition to the state constitution and thus made moot the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex partners. Many Americans felt that the Hawaii court decision represented a serious threat to social stability, and in the U. This legislation declared that same-sex marriages would not be recognized for federal purposes, such as the award of Social Security benefits normally afforded to a surviving spouse or employment-based benefits for the partners of federal employees.
The act also restated existing law by providing that no U. Nonetheless, some states moved toward the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.
The state soon began to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but these were quickly challenged and their legal status over the long term remained uncertain.