The Supreme Court’s historic ruling this summer was a watershed moment for LGBT rights. The federal court ruled that states do not have the right to deny same sex marriages. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, laid out why he voted to support these couples. “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The repercussions were widespread and immediate, in the U.S. and around the world. Even the White House was lit with rainbow lights that night. A few months after the Supreme Court’s decision was handed down, the United Nations recognized the importance of this change by hosting a ministerial meeting on LGBT rights in New York, called “Leaving No-one Behind: Equality & Inclusion in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”
The forum signaled to the world that a new era of openness and dialogue had begun. It also clearly acknowledged the violence and discrimination that remain as everyday realities for many lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people, even in countries with progressive legislation.
One indication of the improved LGBT acceptance is that there are now 22 countries that support same-sex marriage rights, according to Pew Research. Irrespective of local laws, there exists a patchwork of localities that provide civil unions or recognize same-sex couples married elsewhere. Shockingly, in much of the world, laws are still actively enforced that respond to the LGBT lifestyle with prison or even death sentences.
Here’s a basic guide to how attitudes have changed recently in terms of LGBT acceptance around the world, with an emphasis on the 22 countries that now support same-sex marriage. Those laws serve as a useful measure of a more general LGBT acceptance in the local populations.
The right to same-sex marriage was an important victory in the U.S., but the federal government hasn’t settled questions about LGBT rights as workers and consumers. Discrimination continues to be legal in many states and markets. For example, a new law passed in Indiana gives businesses owners the right to refuse service to LGBT customers due to “religious liberty.”
Yes to Marriage: U.S. and Canada. Although Mexico is not on the list, laws favoring LGBT couples passed at the national level in 2015 and same-sex marriage is permitted in some regions.
Many people are surprised to learn how progressive Latin America has become in terms of LGBT rights. Even countries like Ecuador and Colombia recognize domestic partnerships. However, violence against perceived homosexuality is still common in some regions and in countries like Honduras and Peru.
Yes to Marriage: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Also, French Guyana is owned by France, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013.
By any measure, Western Europe leads the world in LGBT acceptance and activism. Of the 22 countries where same-sex marriage is legal, 15 are in Western Europe. Generally, the further east you go in Europe, the lower the social acceptance rates. Countries like Croatia and Slovakia have recently made it more difficult for same-sex couples to be out and open. Russia, which straddles Europe and Asia, has grown even more opposed to LGBT rights, issuing tougher laws and higher sentences.
Yes to Marriage: Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, England/Wales, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Portugal. Note that two of the countries listed here (Scotland, owned by Great Britain, and Greenland, owned by Denmark) are merely territories, not actual countries.
Not one country in all of Asia, the largest landmass on Earth and host to more than half of the world’s population, supports same-sex marriage. Countries in the Middle East tend to take a much harder line than those in South Asia or Southeast Asia. In Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, those convicted of homosexuality have been executed. The countries that are most tolerant to LGBT rights are Israel, Nepal, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. Many of these are traditionally patriarchal societies, where there are very different standards for men and women.
Yes to Marriage: None.
Africa is home to some of the harshest natural environments on the planet, and those seeking LGBT rights face barriers at least that harsh in these highly traditional societies. For example, the countries of Nigeria, Sudan and Mauritania enforce the death penalty for convictions of homosexuality. Although Mozambique decriminalized homosexuality in 2014, a great deal of work needs to be done all across the continent.
Yes to Marriage: South Africa
Australia and Oceania
New Zealand joined the ranks of progressive social countries in 2013. Many of the islands in the Pacific are pro-LGBT and follow the laws of their sponsor countries, such as Pitcairn Island (U.K.), New Caledonia (France) and the Northern Marianas (U.S.). Others, like Australia, are unsupportive but tolerant only in major cities. On some popular tourist islands, many people don’t realize that LGBT lifestyles are criminalized and laws heavily enforced, like on Kiribati and Nauru.
Yes to Marriage: New Zealand.