The International Face of Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Posted By Sarah Chi, Apr 10, 2013

In light of the recent oral arguments that the United States Supreme Court heard on March 26-27, 2013[1], the issue of same-sex marriage made the forefront of American news and media. The issue is not isolated to just the US. In fact, several countries, including France, New Zealand, and Uruguay, have pending legislation before their governments to legalize same-sex marriage, and eleven countries have legalized same-sex marriage on a national scale.[2]

            In 2001, the Netherlands was actually the first country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.[3] Recently this week, senators in Uruguay approved a marriage equality bill, and senators in France began evaluating a similar bill.[4] The French bill, if passed, would not only legalize same-sex marriage, but would also allow same-sex couples to adopt children.[5] If Uruguayan senate passes the bill, it would be the first Latin American country to allow both same-sex marriage and adoption of children.[6]

            For the most part, the legalization of same-sex marriage, whether nationally or just in a few states, has only been recognized in North America, South America, and Europe. South Africa is the only country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, with a few African countries imposing a death penalty for same-sex relations.[7] No East Asian, South Asian, or Southeast Asian country has passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage; however, that might be changing. In Taiwan, where Taipei is home to Asia’s largest annual gay parade, a bill has been pending since 2003.[8] In 2008, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and more recently in July 2012, the Vietnamese Justice Ministry said it would “consider a provision for same-sex marriage rights” as an amendment to the country’s marriage laws.[9]

The same-sex marriage issue in countries with pending legislation certainly remains divided and controversial. However, it is interesting to note that the leaders of those countries do support the passage of their same-sex marriage bills. In France, the bill likely passed in the lower house of Parliament with the support of President Francois Hollande.[10] In Uruguay, the bill passed in the lower house by an overwhelming majority, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica supported the passage.[11] Given President Obama’s interpretation of the Constitution as one supporting “a fundamental right to same-sex marriage,”[12] it will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court and future congressional legislation reflect a similar sentiment.

            In light of Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the trends of the international community can play a role in shaping the decisions of the US Supreme Court.[13] It will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court will consider the recent international trend of legalizing same-sex marriage when they make their upcoming decisions in the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 cases. It will also be interesting to see if and how the US Supreme Court’s decisions will influence the international community, especially the countries with pending same-sex marriage legislation.



[1] The United Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry on March 26, 2013 and United States v. Windsor on March 27, 2013. The audio and transcript of each oral argument are available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio_detail.aspx?argument=12-144; and http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio_detail.aspx?argument=12-307.

[2] Kyle Almond, Same-sex Marriage: Who Will Legalize It Next?, CNN World (Apr. 4, 2013, 8:28 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/world/same-sex-marriage-next-country/index.html?hpt=wo_t5.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. (Argentina was actually the first Latin American country to legalized same-sex marriage back in 2010).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Laura Smith-Spark, French Lawmakers Approve Same-Sex Marriage Bill, CNN (Feb. 12, 2013, 11:38 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/world/europe/france-gay-marriage-vote/index.html.

[11] See Kyle Almond, Same-sex Marriage: Who Will Legalize It Next?, (citing Poll: Uruguayans Favor Same-Sex Marriage by 20 Points, AfterMarriage Blog (DEC. 20, 2012), http://aftermarriageblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/poll-Uruguayans-favor-same-sex-marriage-by-20-points/

[12] Devin Dwyer, President Obama Explains Legal Argument for Same-Sex Marriage, ABCnews: The Note Politics Blog (Mar. 1, 2013, 8:11 PM), http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/03/president-Obama-explains-legal-argument-for-same-sex-marriage/.

[13] See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 560 (2003).