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.
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.