DOMA and Prop. 8 struck down: Gay marriage laws around the globe

The US Supreme Court delivered two landmark rulings that essentially bolster same sex marriage this year. The court knocked down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), thereby granting homosexual couples whose marriages are recognized by their state the same federal benefits – including tax, healthcare, and retirement – as heterosexual married couples. Additionally, the court threw out a separate appeal, effectively reinstating a lower court's decision that gay marriage was protected in California, the most populous state.

There is still no national gay marriage legislation in the pipeline in the US, however, with the court's decision essentially clearing the way for gay marriage in California, there are now 13 states that allow same-sex unions. Numerous countries around the globe already recognize same-sex marriage or the right to civil unions. Here’s the breakdown by region:

Wally Santana/AP
In this August 2011 file photo, a smiling same-sex female couple stand by their cake during a mass wedding at a night club in Taipei, Taiwan, when 60 same-sex female couples tied the knot during this mass wedding in the nation that does not legally recognize same-sex marriages.

1. Europe

Axel and Eigil Axgil became the world’s first gay couple granted a civil union on Oct. 1, 1989, in Copenhagen, Denmark. This European country was first to pass legislation legalizing the union of same-sex couples, called a “registered partnership” in Denmark.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to grant marriage rights that are equitable between heterosexual and homosexual couples. The first gay marriage occurred on April 1 that year. Two years later Belgium followed suit. Norway (2008), Sweden (2009), and Portugal (2010) have legalized gay marriage as well, and legislation was introduced in Finland this March. Finland has allowed civil unions since 2002, but the new legislation would allow homosexual couples further rights including the ability to adopt children and share last names.

Iceland’s legalization of gay marriage also took place in 2010. The country’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, soon married her partner and became the world’s first openly gay head of state.

France does not legally recognize gay marriage, but in 1999 it created civil contracts for couples who live together – regardless of sexual orientation. These contracts allow cohabitating couples the same rights as married couples in terms of adoption, inheritance, and taxes. Luxembourg mirrored this legislation in 2004.

Germany and Britain also recognize civil unions. As of 2001 Germany grants all couples the same inheritance rights when they are registered as “life partners.” Britain passed legislation on same-sex partnerships in 2005 that allows registered couples to share equal rights to married couples in terms of pensions, social security, and property.

Spain was the third European country to legalize gay marriage (2005), though the legislation was hotly contested by the Catholic Church. Unlike many countries where gay marriage is legal, Spanish same-sex couples are able to adopt children.

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