What’s the history of same-sex marriage?
Same-sex marriage isn’t a new thing. When you look back through history, there have been examples of same-sex couples formalising their relationship in a wide range of cultures and counties.
The historical precedents
The ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, and China, all provide numerous examples to demonstrate that it was relatively common for people of the same sex to make some sort of formal commitment to each other.
As the power of religious authorities grew over time, it was advocated that marriage should be for procreation purposes only, and should therefore be reserved for a man and a woman. However, examples of same-sex couples formally committing to each other continued throughout the Middle Ages, and also became part of Pirate law in the 18th century.
Advocacy for same-sex marriage
It’s a number of court cases in the US that give us the clearest examples of LGBTQ activists seeking to challenge the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
A number of applications brought before the Supreme Court of Minnesota in the early 1970s appear to have triggered state legislatures across the US to introduce statutes specifically banning same-sex marriage.
The language of ‘domestic partner’ began to emerge in the early 1980s, specifically in relation to health care when the onset of the HIV pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of same-sex relationships not protected by law.
The Netherlands led the way
In 1979, The Netherlands introduced a scheme that recognised Unregistered Cohabitation. The scheme was developed to help same-sex couples navigate property rental laws, and it made The Netherlands the first country in the world where same-sex couples could apply for legal rights to protect their relationship.
It wasn’t until 1989 that Denmark became the first country in the world to legally recognise same-sex unions – passing legislation that recognised Registered Partnerships. Norway followed with similar legislation in 1993, Sweden followed suit in 1994. For the first time in the modern era, formal legal unions between same-sex couples were being seen as equivalent to that of a marriage between a man and a woman.
In 2001, The Netherlands passed legislation that formally recognised same-sex marriage. The first country in the world to do so.
The current position
Same-sex marriage is currently recognised in 28 countries around the world, although there are a number of places where legal challenges and public votes make the exact position a little uncertain.
There’s still 73 countries where it is illegal to be LGBTQ, and eight countries where you could be punished with the death penalty for revealing that you are LGBTQ.