Where Is Same-Sex Marriage Legal? Here Are the Best and Worst Countries in the World for Gay Rights

Supporters of the "Yes" vote for marriage equality celebrate at a rally in central Sydney, Australia, November 15, 2017. Same-sex marriage is still banned in much of the world. David Gray/Reuters

LGBT activists across Australia were celebrating Wednesday, as 61 percent of the population voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed in an advisory referendum.

While the referendum does not automatically render same-sex marriage legal, it will be used in Parliament as a persuasive argument in favor of swift legalization.

Assuming lawmakers don't ignore the result, Australia will be the 26th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. But in other nations across the world, the fight to marry who you want continues. Here's a run-down of the situation across the globe.


Europe is starkly divided on the issue of equal marriage.

The continent contains the Netherlands, which 19 years ago became the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed. Yet even within the European Union (EU), a bloc of 28 relatively wealthy, liberal nations, six states do not recognize same-sex unions of any kind, and 15 do not permit same-sex marriage.

Central and Eastern European states within the bloc are among the most conservative on the issue; Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria allow neither civil unions nor marriage for same-sex couples.

Italy, increasingly unusual among Western European states for its resistance to marriage rights, legalized civil unions in 2016. It was a significant shift for the strongly Catholic nation, given the policy was opposed by the Vatican, but the country has yet to introduce equal marriage.

Germany, often held up as a liberal bastion, only introduced equal marriage this year. Longstanding conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposed the move, sought to dodge the issue for over a decade.

And Northern Ireland stands as an unusual case: The tiny, very religious nation is a province of the U.K., but it maintained a ban on same-sex marriage even when it was legalized for English, Scottish and Welsh couples in 2013. Northern Ireland permits same-sex civil unions.

Outside of the EU, equal marriage is yet to materialize throughout much of the east of the continent, including in Russia, Europe's largest country.


Elsewhere in Australia's own continent, New Zealand already permitted same-sex marriage in 2013. But it remains illegal across Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

The Americas

In the United States, it took 11 years for same-sex marriage to spread from one state (Massachusetts) to becoming legal everywhere in 2015. It was made legal in Canada in 2005.

Growing numbers of Latin American countries allow same-sex marriage. The first nation to do so was Argentina in 2010, and now Colombia , Uruguay, Brazil, some Mexican states and Mexico City allow same-sex couples to wed.

Chile allows same-sex unions and President Michelle Bachelet sent a bill that would introduce equal marriage laws to congress in August. Ecuador also allows same-sex couples to enter into a civil union.

But other Latin American countries are known to be especially difficult places for gay people to live. Venezuela, for example, was slammed in a U.N. report for leaving LGBT people "defenseless" amid "an atmosphere of alarming growth of homophobia and transphobia," according to CNN.


This year, Taiwan's highest court ruled that it was not tenable to deny same-sex couples marriage rights, making it the first Asian country to introduce equal marriage.

The move acted as a spur for pro-equal marriage campaigners in Australia, which maintains closer political and economic ties to Asia than many English-speaking nations.

Elsewhere on the continent, gay rights vary. Hong Kong decriminalized homosexuality in 1991. Mainland China permits homosexuality but its stance is often summarized as "not encouraging, not discouraging and not promoting" it, which leaves it unlikely to pass equal marriage laws. India, too, does not criminalize homosexuality, but gay people face substantial discrimination.

At the more extreme end of the spectrum, Afghanistan, where men can be given the death penalty for having sex with other men, is considered one of the worst places in the world to be gay.


South Africa was one of the first countries in the world, and the first in Africa, to introduce equal marriage laws, allowing same-sex couples to wed in 2006.

But 11 years later, it remains the only nation in the continent to have done so. Meanwhile, 33 out of 54 nations across Africa criminalize homosexuality in some way.