Before 2017: Equal Marriage in Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Sweden; parts of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Akrotiri & Dhekelia bases). Civil Unions in: Andorra, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Germany, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus.
Developments in 2017: Equal Marriage in Finland, Germany, Malta; UK territories Guernsey and Alderney; partial implementation of equal marriage ruling in Austria. Recognition of foreign marriages in Estonia and Armenia. Constitutional ban in Georgia.
Looking ahead: Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, UK (Jersey, Sark, Northern Ireland), Slovenia, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Romania, EU-wide
FINLAND: Finland’s parliament first passed an equal marriage law in 2014, but it didn’t take effect until March 2017. There was some drama that a new conservative government might derail it, but that didn’t happen, and Finland became the 22nd equal marriage country on March 1, 2017.
MALTA: Malta’s left-leaning government had in recent years pushed the tiny country to the forefront of the LGBT rights movement, but despite passing civil unions in 2014, it withheld marriage equality until this past summer. The government had endeavored to fight an election on the issue, but the opposition refused to play along and declared itself in support of equal marriage too. It was one of the first bills passed by the new government in July, with near unanimous support in Parliament (66-1). On Sept 1, Malta became the 23rd equal marriage country.
For the trivia buffs, Malta is the smallest country by area, but not the smallest country by population to pass equal marriage — that is Iceland.
GERMANY: Years of campaigning in Germany ran aground on the personal objection of long-serving chancellor Angela Merkel. So when she suddenly announced she might have a change of heart ahead of scheduled elections, the opposition pounced. Germany quickly passed an equal marriage law in July, and on Oct 1, it became the 24th equal marriage country.
Germany’s equal marriage law means 14/28 EU members, representing 66% of the EU population, recognize equal marriage (the ratios may change if Brexit actually goes forward).
UK: It looked for a long time this year like Northern Ireland might finally pass an equal marriage law, when following a snap election, Sinn Fein announced it would not join a power-sharing government unless the other major party, the Democratic Unionists, cast aside their unpopular opposition and allow an equal marriage law to pass. Alas, the DUP has seen fit to instead leave Northern Ireland without a government rather than allow equal marriage to pass. Normally, the London government would step in an govern directly from Westminster, but as the UK Conservatives are in a loose coalition with the DUP in parliament, and their agenda is so stuffed with Brexit negotiations and the need to play along with the Irish Republic, it’s unclear how the province will get out of its current dilemma. UK Labour has proposed a referendum on same-sex marriage if direct rule is imposed, to break the logjam. (I don’t mind referenda, in this case.) [UPDATE Jan. 3, 2018: Also, a court case that started in 2014 was finally resolved, with the province’s court finding against the plaintiffs seeking equality. This is what happens when you don’t have a constitutional bill of rights. The plaintiffs have appealed to the UK Supreme Court.]
The UK Crown Dependency of Guernsey (pop. 63,000) also passed a same-sex marriage law, as did its own dependency Alderney (pop. 2,000). The other part of the bailiwick, Sark (pop. 600), does not currently have equal marriage on its agenda, however a member of the government has said the government does intend to introduce such a law. Same-sex couples can adopt in both Alderney and Sark because adoptions in the bailiwick are processed in Guernsey. The other dependency, Jersey (pop. 100,000) has been working on an overhaul of its marriage legislation for years and a final vote was delayed until Jan. 30, 2018.
Other UK territories that passed equal marriage laws in 2017 are Bermuda, Falkland Islands, and Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. You can read more about those territories in the sections on the Americas and Africa. As of now, 8/14 overseas territories allow same-sex marriage.
DENMARK: The Faroe Islands (pop. 49,000) – a country within the Kingdom of Denmark – finally brought its equal marriage law into effect after a year of delay in part at the hands of the Danish parliament. The Faroes were the last part of the Kingdom, and the last Nordic/Scandinavian country to pass equal marriage. Also, Denmark became the first country in the world to officially declassify transgender status as a mental illness.
AUSTRIA: On Dec. 5, the Constitutional Court found that marriage is a fundamental right that must be granted to homosexuals. This is a first for a court in Europe, where equal marriage has always been granted legislatively. The ruling took effect immediately for the five petitioning couples, so some same-sex marriage may already take place in Austria. However, the court gave the government until Jan. 1 2019 to craft a law that would have general effect; after that date, the court’s ruling will strike down the same-sex marriage ban even if the government doesn’t act. The newly elected government includes a far-right, anti-gay party, so don’t expect the government to rush to act here. Still, because the ruling took immediate effect for at least some couples and its implementation date is ironclad, I count Austria as an already equal-marriage jurisdiction. Others disagree. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s either the 25th or 26th equal marriage country (Australia’s law took effect a few days later).
SPAIN/CATALONIA: The last quarter of 2017 saw Spain wracked with a constitutional crisis following a vote for independence in its Catalonia province. While actual secession looks unlikely right now, if it does secede, it would automatically become a new equal marriage country – and the first one to have it since its creation.
ROMANIA and the EUROPEAN UNION: Plans for a referendum to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage have met repeated delays, although the government still apparently plans to hold it at some point in 2018. A civil partnership bill also floated around Parliament a bit in 2017, but hasn’t gone far. Meanwhile, a court case calling for recognition of foreign same-sex marriages was referred to the European Court of Justice, which is a sort of supreme court of the EU. Unlike the European Court of Human Rights (which has ruled against same-sex marriage repeatedly), the ECJ rulings are binding.
Essentially, the case before the ECJ contends that the ban on same-sex marriage restricts on the EU’s fundamental freedoms – the freedom to move within the EU – by turning same-sex families into legal strangers when they leave certain jurisdictions. I honestly don’t see how the court can disagree here. But they’ve got some options: they can require civil unions that are equal to marriage, which would be very complicated and still unequal, but would probably have the least resistance from certain opposing states (especially those that have constitutional bans); they could require states to recognize foreign marriages only (which is probably the most likely solution but could similarly create legal uncertainties, such as residency tests, and how to deal with divorces and adoptions); they could require states to allow same-sex marriages (which would be the biggest reach for the court, and would nullify provisions of several member states’ constitutions); and I suppose they could limit their ruling to Romania specifically. An EU-wide ruling could affect 14 states that do not currently have complete equality: UK (Northern Ireland*, as well as its overseas territories, assuming this ruling occurs before Brexit), Italy*, Slovenia*, Croatia*, Hungary*, Czechia*, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece*, Cyprus*, Poland, Estonia*, Latvia, and Lithuania. (*=has a civil union law). It could also impact several applicant/candidate EU countries (assuming that such a ruling doesn’t halt their desire to join): Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (Turkey’s progress has basically been suspended given the country’s slide into authoritarianism).
SWITZERLAND: An equal marriage bill was to be ready for debate in 2017, but Parliament gave the committee preparing it until 2019 to finalize its work. With the developments in Germany and Austria, it’s possible that the Swiss might speed up their work. Also, on Jan. 1, 2018, a new law comes into effect allowing couples in registered partnerships to adopt their stepchildren (joint adoption/non-relative adoption is still not allowed). Still, don’t expect neighboring Liechtenstein to act; the principality’s Catholic ruler has said in the past he would veto any laws for same-sex marriage or couple adoption.
ESTONIA: The current government has continued to obstruct regulations to bring into effect Estonia’s registered partnership law first passed in 2014, and even unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the law in 2017. Courts this year continued to uphold a ruling from last December requiring the government to recognize marriages performed overseas.
ARMENIA: In a surprise announcement, the interior ministry decided in July 2017 that it would recognize foreign same-sex marriages. Armenia is a very conservative, Russian-aligned country that has not been notable for its LGBT activism, and indeed, its constitution bans same-sex marriage in the country (sodomy was only decriminalized in 2003). It is not known if any same-sex couples have attempted to have a foreign marriage registered in Armenia for any purpose, or what benefits or entitlements come with it. Same-sex couples may not adopt. There is no anti-discrimination legislation, and gays are barred from military service. The recognition does not extend to Artsakh, the breakaway region of Azerbaijan formerly known as Nagorno-Karabach, which is basically an Armenian client state.
LITHUANIA: A cohabitation bill that would give very limited rights to same-sex couples (and other pairs of cohabitants) was debated.
ITALY: The country spent most of 2017 recovering from the political crisis its former PM Matteo Renzi walked it into with a disastrous constitutional reform campaign last year. Renzi immediately resigned, but then decided to run for the leadership of his party again, and since he won, he will be on the ballot in general election called for March 4. Renzi expressed support for same-sex marriage in the leadership campaign, but anything can happen in an Italian election so who knows what to expect in May. Polls suggest it could once again be ungovernable. In other news, various courts granted recognition of overseas marriages and step-child adoption in individual cases. These appear to set precedents, but still require court decisions in individual cases, not unlike the situation in Mexico.
SAN MARINO: The government continued to discuss civil unions, but no action was taken.
MONACO: The executive agreed to parliament’s proposal for civil unions based on France’s PACS, but will not table a bill until April 2018, after general elections. Given that the proposal had unanimous support in Monaco’s parliament, it should pass no matter who wins. Monaco is another jurisdiction where a strongly Catholic prince will not likely allow same-sex marriage.
SERBIA: An openly lesbian woman was elected/appointed Prime Minister in 2017, and she marched in the often dangerous Belgrade Pride this year. She has mentioned support for the idea of civil unions in Serbia, but no legislation has been brought forward yet. Ireland also elected its first openly gay PM Leo Varadkar.
CZECHIA: Elections in October yielded a president who has expressed support for same-sex marriage, and a majority in parliament that is in favor. No bill has been introduced yet, but with support over 50% for the past few years, LGBT activists there are hopeful. The previous government had also introduced a step-child adoption bill, but did not advance it before elections. Expect both issues to surface in 2018.
CYPRUS: Hopes for a resolution to t he 40-year-old division of Cyprus were dashed when the two sides abruptly ended reunification talks in January. There is hope that talks could recommence after both sides hold elections in January. Turkey and Greece, the proxy powers in the dispute, seemed to be making amends recently, although the former’s slide into autocracy (not to mention its crackdowns on LGBT issues) has put it at odds with its EU neighbors. The division is relevant because if the country reunites, it’s possible the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, upon ceasing to exist, will become subject to Cyprus’ civil partnership law. It would also be subject to EU law, which would make it affected by the expected ECJ ruling on marriage discussed above.
SLOVENIA: After becoming the first Slavic country to pass a same-sex marriage law in 2015, only to have the law rejected in a citizens’ referendum that year, 2018 may see the issue return to the spotlight. Elections are due before July, and the issue could come up again. The law around referendums has been changed since the 2015 debacle, specifically to limit the ability of citizens to pass laws that limit human rights. We’ll see if the legislators elected in 2018 have the stones to push the issue again (and an ECJ ruling might help).
MACEDONIA: The country’s rapprochement with Greece (after a 20-year-long dispute over its name) following the election of a Western-leaning government, holds promise that the country will be invited to begin EU accession talks soon, which could eventually positively impact LGBT rights in the region.
GEORGIA: The country passed a new constitution that specifically bans same-sex marriage. It was already banned in statute.
CRACKDOWNS ON LGBT PEOPLE: We saw government crackdowns on LGBT people in Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and most dramatically, in the Russian autonomous province of Chechnya. Reports also suggest the situation is not good for LGBT people in the breakaway Donbass territories of Ukraine. Russia, of course, continues to be a source of anti-LGBT hostility generally, and it will be interesting to see what happens during the World Cup due to be held there in 2018.