December 8, 2017

A global snapshot of same-sex marriage

With the Australian Parliament’s recent passage of legislation legalizing gay marriage, 26 countries now permit gays and lesbians to wed. And if a recent high court ruling in Europe’s Austria takes effect as expected in 2019, that country also will join the ranks of nations allowing same-sex unions.

These events follow a number of other high-profile victories in recent years for gay marriage advocates, including Germany’s decision in June 2017 to allow gays and lesbians to wed and a Supreme Court ruling ruling two years earlier that made same-sex marriage legal in the United States.

Australia’s final parliamentary vote came on Dec. 7, just three weeks after more than 60% of Australians — voting in a nonbinding nationwide referendum — said they favored legalizing same-sex marriage.

And Austria saw a high court ruling on Dec. 5 that stipulated that gays and lesbians be given full marriage rights by 2019, unless the country’s parliament enacts legislation countermanding the order.

Worldwide, roughly two-thirds of the countries that allow gay marriage – 17 of 26 – are in Western Europe. Still, a number of Western European nations, particularly Italy and Switzerland, do not allow same-sex unions. And, so far, no countries in Central and Eastern Europe have legalized gay marriage.

Along with New Zealand, Australia is only the second nation in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex unions. (Taiwan’s highest court ruled in favor of gay unions this year, but gave the country’s parliament two years to implement the ruling.) In Africa, only South Africa allows gays and lesbians to wed, which became legal in 2006.

In the Americas, five countries besides the U.S. – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Uruguay – have legalized gay marriage. In addition, some jurisdictions in Mexico allow same sex couples to wed.

Not surprisingly, same-sex marriage has advanced mostly in countries and regions where acceptance of homosexuality is high. In the U.S., for instance, 70% of adults in a survey conducted in June and July 2017 said that homosexuality should be accepted.

In 2013, we surveyed 11 of the 26 nations that have legalized same-sex marriage in all or part of their territory. In all but one of them (South Africa), a majority of people said homosexuality should be accepted. And while only 32% of South Africans said homosexuality should be accepted, that was by far the highest acceptance level of the eight African countries surveyed.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on June 4, 2013.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Social Values

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.