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Legal same sex marriage Same sex marriage permissable in one state, but recognised countrywide Other type of civil union Other or same sex couples unrecognised Penalties

Look at the polls and around 80 percent of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics. Yet in 2005 Spain made history by becoming the first predominantly Catholic nation to legalise same-sex marriages. There was huge opposition from the Catholic hierarchy with 20 bishops taking the unusual step of marching in protest SPAIN at the proposals. Yet despite the countrys religious make-up, lay Catholics seemed to be in favour of equal marriage rights with, on average, 60 percent approving in the various polls that were taken at the time. The bill passed by 187 to 147 votes and within the first year 4,500 couples had SWEDEN married. Since then around 3,500 gay men and women have held weddings each year. Dissolution rates for gay marriages in Spain are around three percent compared to a national divorce rate of 10 percent.

Hardly a Scandinavian-style bastion of social liberalism, Portugal only lifted its ban on abortion four years ago. Nonetheless in June 2010, the predominantly Catholic but constitutionally secular nation took the unusual step of following its neighbour Spain and legalising same sex marriages. Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the country as the bill was being debated, called the plans insidious and dangerous yet the socialist prime minister of the time Jose Socrates pressed ahead. Interestingly, in contrast to Spain, Portuguese approval ratings for gay marriage hovered around the 40-45 percent, suggesting a less than unanimous desire to see the bill passed. Nonetheless a petition against gay marriage only managed to secure 90,000 signatures, failing to force a national referendum. The first couple to marry were Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao, both divorced mothers in their 30s who had been together since 2003.

Perhaps it was inevitable that one of the worlds most liberal and progressive societies became the first to fully implement marriage equality, allowing gay men and women to marry as far back as 2001. The Dutch parliament began investigating the feasibility of same-sex marriages as early as 1995, recommending two years later that the state should legislate in favour of them. The proposals came before the Dutch parliament in late 2000 at a time when the Christian Democrats were not part of the ruling coalition. The bill, which simply said a marriage can be contracted by two people of different or the same sex, was easily passed. But the law set off shockwaves around the world with LGBT communities clamouring to see similar equality achieved in their own nations.

After the Netherlands, Belgium was the next country to fully legalise same-sex marriages in 2003. However those who predicted that the rest of Europe would soon follow in their footsteps were mistaken. Instead European nations such as Britain, France and Germany opted for civil unions, stopping short of legalising same-sex marriage. At the time most LGBT organisations were happy to campaign for civil unions as a compromise that would hopefully satisfy most religious opposition. However in 2009 Norway and Sweden raised the bar by legalising gay marriage, followed by Iceland a year later. Since then equality activists have begun campaigning once more for fully equalised marriage laws.


Life in prison Death penalty
Thanks to American federalism the status of same sex marriages in the United States is fiendishly complex. Currently six states have fully approved gay marriages: Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Maryland and Washington have signalled their intention to legislate for gay marriages. However upcoming voter referendums may shoot those proposals down. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey have opted for gay civil unions. Meanwhile a further 39 states have gone in the opposite direction by specifically banning same-sex unions or marriages. California passed gay marriages and then controversially repealed it. That decision is currently being challenged in the courts.




And the countries where intolerance rules

While numerous countries push towards gay marriages or civil partnerships, there are still many more legislatures that actively criminalise homosexual activity. Almost half of Africa 24 nations have penalties for homosexuality ranging from fines and short imprisonment to capital punishment in territories controlled by Sharia law such as Al-Shabaab occupied Somalia. Other nations that are notorious for prosecuting homosexuality include Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Malaysia. Guyana remains the only Latin American nation to have anti-gay statues still on its books.






Mexico and Brazil are unusual in that although same sex marriage is not legal nationally, they both have federal systems where one or more states has allowed homosexuals to marry in ceremonies that are legally recognised across the country. Both are predominantly Catholic countries whose ecclesiastical authorities have fought against gay marriages. Mexico City, which has been run by the left-wing Revolutionary Democratic Party since the late 1990s, approved gay marriages in December 2009. Under Mexicos federal system, such marriages are legitimate in other states. The state of Coahuila has also approved same sex unions. In Brazil same sex unions have been recognised since 2004 but in January a judge in the state of Alagoas followed Mexico Citys lead and legalised gay marriages in his jurisdiction. Under Brazilian law such marriages have to be recognised nationwide.



In a continent where numerous nations still have strict prison sentences for homosexuality, South Africa stands alone as being the only African nation to have legalised gay marriage. Following the trauma of apartheid, the Rainbow Nations new leaders were determined to make sure that human rights SOUTH AFRICA abuses of the past were never repeated. The new constitution in 1997 specifically forbade discrimination based on sex, gender or sexual orientation sparking a series of court battles by gay couples to have their rights recognised. In 2005 lesbian couple Mari Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys won a three year court battle that forced the South African legislature to recognise gay marriages. Between 2007 and 2010 around 2,500 gay couples tied the knot.


Like Spain and Portugal, Argentina is a country that has recently freed itself of a brutal dictatorship which had the tacit if not complicit backing of the Catholic Church. All three countries share a Catholic identity but also a profoundly radical secular left that has pioneered the cause of gay marriages. In July 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalise same-sex marriages after months of often bitter and acrimonious debate. The bill only passed in the senate by six votes yet approval ratings among Argentineans at the time were some of the highest ever seen at 70 percent and above. Within the first year 2,697 people had tied the knot. The vast majority of marriages took place in Buenos Aires, one of the most gay-friendly cities in Latin America. The first couple to wed were Jos Luis Navarro and Miguel ngel Calefato, who got married in their home province of Santiago del Estero.





Words: Jerome Taylor Graphic: Liz Gould