Before 2017: Equal Marriage in Canada, US (and territories Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands), Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and nine states and the capital district of Mexico; plus Greenland (Denmark), Caribbean Netherlands, and French overseas territories (St Pierre and Miquelon, Martinique, Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, French Guyana); limited recognition in Netherlands countries (Saint Martin, Curacao, Aruba); Civil Unions in: Chile, Costa Rica, Aruba (Netherlands).
Developments in 2017: Equal Marriage in UK territories Bermuda, Falkland Islands; three Mexican states (Baja California, Puebla, Chiapas), four US Native nations.
Looking ahead: Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, other UK territories.
Trouble spots: Haiti, Bermuda, Curacao.
MEXICO: The state-by-state progress continued slowly in 2017. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation struck down marriage laws passed in Chiapas and Puebla states, requiring same-sex marriage in those states, and the government of Baja California stopped enforcing its same-sex marriage ban. But without legislative changes in the latter two states, some couples have continued to experience difficulties. Tlaxcala state passed a civil union law, but it is still subject to the Supreme Court jurisprudence that call for the issuing of injunctions to allow full same-sex marriages. Other state congresses continued to obstruct marriage bills. Many state congresses are up for election on July 1, so we’ll see how they play out. Public opinion and reporting in Mexico seems to be turning in favor of equality.
UK TERRITORIES: First the great news: The Falkland Islands (pop. 3,000) passed their equal marriage/adoption law this year. Now the complicated news: Bermuda’s Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in May, and the government decided not to appeal. But then there was a change in government, and the new government passed a bill that overturned the ruling, re-banned same-sex marriage, and instead created “all-but-the-name-marriage” domestic partnerships to replace them (note same-sex couple adoption was already allowed in the territory under an earlier court ruling, and has been preserved). But that’s not the end of the story, yet. As of press time, the Governor has not granted assent to the new law, and reports suggest he’s seeking permission from the UK Government to veto it. We’ll see how this plays out in the new year.
Following the court ruling in Bermuda, activists in Cayman Islands sought to file a test case for marriage, but no case has yet been filed. There were no known developments in the other UK territories in the Caribbean: Montserrat, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, UK Virgin Islands, nor for the uninhabited South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. If the government does shut down the Bermuda marriage repeal, and does impose marriage equality on Northern Ireland somehow, it’s possible that the FCO could impose it on these other territories, too.
CHILE: Outgoing president Michele Bachelet took her time introducing a promised equal marriage bill to Congress, and when it finally came in August, Congress was slow to act on it. The Senate began debating it in December. Elections in November/December returned a congress with a majority in favor of bill, but a President who campaigned against it. It’s possible Congress could pass the bill in the lame duck session before new president Pinera takes office in March. Or, Pinera could soften his opposition once in office. Pinera also campaigned against allowing same-sex couples to adopt, and that issue could also be before congress. Should it pass, it would also extend to Chile’s Antarctic territory and Easter Island.
PANAMA and VENEZUELA: Supreme Courts in both countries are expected to rule shortly on same-sex marriage. In Panama, a negative opinion was leaked to the media, but it was not made official even after the court supposedly voted on it. So it sounds like a positive decision should be coming, but no news has come out whatsoever. In Venezuela, the court is expected to issue a decision in 2018.
[UPDATE Jan. 3, 2018: A reader informs me that the Venezuela Constitutional Court actually has two equal marriage cases before it, as well as separate cases dealing with gender identity recognition, same-sex couple adoption/family registration, and the right of LGBT people to serve in the military. The main local LGBT rights group feels optimistic about all five cases, but Venezuela is a basic dictatorship, and you never know what the government’s response will be. That said, in 2017 President Maduro signaled support for same-sex marriage being discussed in an ongoing constitutional convention.]
COSTA RICA: There was no news on a Supreme Court case filed in Costa Rica last year. Another couple filed a case seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage. Same-sex marriage has become a live issue in the general election coming in Feb. 2018.
PERU: It was an up-and-down year. Early in the year, the President took advantage of legislative gridlock to pass a sweeping anti-discrimination and hate crime law by decree, which is apparently something you can do in Peru. Unfortunately, the Congress then got its shit together and the anti-gay majority party struck down the new laws. In January, an administrative court ruled that foreign same-sex marriages must be recognized for pension purposes. The government has appealed. That inspired queer members of congress to hold back support for a civil union bill they’d tabled last year, and instead file a same-sex marriage bill. Both have stalled. We’ll see what comes of the bills and the court case in 2018, but I’m more optimistic about the courts.
ECUADOR: This was one of the first countries in Latin America to pass a civil union law in 2008, but it also has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Activists have begun talking about a push to change that.
PARAGUAY: A presidential candidate grabbed headlines by declaring himself in support of same-sex marriage, though the country maintains a constitutional ban on it. Clarifications were later issued, but we’ll see if/how this plays out in the elections this April.
JAMAICA and TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Activists filed cases to strike down the countries’ criminal bans on sodomy. No news yet on when the cases will be heard. [UPDATE Jan. 2: A reader has informed me that the Trinidad & Tobago case will be heard Jan. 30, 2018; of course, a ruling could still take years to be issued. For comparison’s sake, a similar case in Belize took more than three years for a ruling to be issued striking the nation’s sodomy laws last year.]
HAITI: While same-sex marriage is already illegal, the Haitian Senate passed a sweeping bill to ban advocacy for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. It has not been taken up in the lower house as yet. I’m not sure how such a bill would stand up to the country’s constitutional rights, but it certainly wouldn’t satisfy global democratic norms. Keep an eye out in 2018.
NETHERLANDS TERRITORIES: A couple politicians in Curacao grabbed headlines calling for a referendum on same-sex marriage. It’s not clear there’s even a movement calling for it or if such a bill would stand up to the Netherlands constitution. Either way, it hasn’t gone anywhere, but we should keep an eye out.
USA: The courts continued to be the main battlefield for marriage equality, long after we thought the fight was over in June 2015. The Supreme Court heard a case calling for ‘religious freedom’ exceptions to discrimination laws, while Texas courts dealt with a state law that bans same-sex couples from receiving spousal benefits. Neither has come to a final ruling yet. Meanwhile, a handful of US Native Nations passed same-sex marriage laws, including the Osage, Prairie Island, Ho-Chunk Native Nation of Wisconsin, and the Ak-Chin.
CANADA: Just gonna take a moment to highlight how Canada led the way on a number of LGBT rights files in 2017. You can read my take on it here.