Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Worldwide Marriage Equality Watch List

Amsterdam City Hall, April 1, 2001 - Photo by Rex Wockner

This is a companion article to my article Marriage Equality Around the World. Here we track the nations and other jurisdictions most likely to see marriage equality next, as well as places where marriage equality has become a high-profile topic. Last update: December 11, 2018.


The Constitutional Court struck down the ban on marriage equality on Dec. 5, 2017, and also extended the nation's same-sex registered-partnership law to opposite-sex couples. The ruling takes effect Jan. 1, 2019. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the ruling were allowed to marry earlier.


[Note: Bermuda has marriage equality again as of a Nov. 23, 2018, ruling by the Court of Appeal. We will edit all relevant references throughout the articles here once the 21 days have passed during which the government can announce an appeal of the new ruling to the UK's Privy Council, the court of final appeal, and request a new stay, i.e. once we know the ruling is going to stick.]

A law repealing marriage equality and replacing it with domestic partnerships that offer the benefits of marriage took effect June 1, 2018, making the Bermuda government the first in the world to end marriage equality. On June 6, 2018, the portion of the law that re-banned marriage equality was struck down by the same court that had legalized marriage equality in May 2017. On July 5, 2018, the government appealed the new strikedown to the Court of Appeal. That court, composed of foreign judges flown in for the occasion, heard the case Nov. 7-9, 2018. After it rules, there can be one final appeal to the United Kingdom Privy Council, where opponents of marriage equality would face long odds.

There has been only one other repeal of marriage equality in history: California voters ended marriage equality via a ballot initiative (Proposition 8) in 2008. A court ruling overturning the voters' decision took effect in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the initiative's sponsors. Voters in the U.S. state of Maine once blocked a marriage-equality law from coming into force, in 2009, and then reversed themselves and allowed marriage equality, in 2012. Voters in Slovenia blocked a marriage-equality law from coming into force in 2015.

Cayman Islands

A couple sued the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean Sea, in June 2018 after being denied a marriage license because they are women. The Grand Court lawsuit says the Cayman Islands Bill of Rights guarantees the rights to private and family life, freedom of conscience and non-discrimination. A three-day trial will be held in February 2019.

These United Kingdom jurisdictions have marriage equality: England and Wales (2014), Akrotiri and Dhekelia (2014), British Indian Ocean Territory (2014, 2015), Scotland (2014), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (2014), Pitcairn Islands (2015), Ascension Island (2016), Isle of Man (2016), British Antarctic Territory (2016), Gibraltar (2016), Guernsey (2017), Falkland Islands (2017), Tristan da Cunha (2017), Saint Helena (2017), Jersey (2018), Alderney (2018).

These United Kingdom jurisdictions do not have marriage equality: Northern Ireland, Sark (part of Guernsey) and the overseas territories Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands.


Since President Sebastián Piñera took office in March 2018, Chile's government has engaged in a range of tactics aimed at stalling or wiggling out of its obligations to bring in marriage equality. On Oct. 5, 2018, it became clear why. Piñera told TV viewers, "I believe that marriage, as we conceive it and by its nature, is between a man and a woman."

Under a settlement agreement Chile's government entered into before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2016, the government is required to push for marriage equality until it is achieved. Chile is further obligated to bring in marriage equality under the Inter-American Court of Human Rights marriage-equality ruling published in January 2018.

There is a marriage-equality bill sitting in Congress. It has enough support to pass but Piñera's people have refused to move it.

Costa Rica

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice struck down the nation's ban on marriage equality on Aug. 8, 2018, but delayed its ruling from taking effect until May 26, 2020 (18 months after it was published in the Judicial Bulletin). In response, Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado "convoked" a marriage-equality bill in August's legislative session but it did not come up for a vote.

The ruling was a direct result of the Inter-American Court of Human Right's January 2018 marriage-equality ruling, which obligates Costa Rica and 15 other nations without marriage equality to let same-sex couples marry. Those nations, signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights, are Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Suriname. Four other signatory nations already have marriage equality: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay. Mexico has full marriage equality only in 13 of its 31 states and in Mexico City, a federal district.

"The Inter-American Court ruling mandating the freedom to marry was clear, binding, and months ago," Freedom to Marry Global's Evan Wolfson said after the Costa Rican ruling. "The people of Costa Rica went to the polls and repudiated the anti-gay, anti-marriage candidate in favor of the current president, who campaigned in support of the freedom to marry. ... Costa Rica's Supreme Court got the what right, but the when wrong. Every day of delay is a day of real injury, indignity, and injustice for real families."

Costa Rica's presidential election, held April 1, 2018, morphed into a referendum on marriage equality after an evangelical Christian, Fabricio Alvarado, catapulted into first place in the first round (besting 12 other candidates) by making resistance to the Inter-American Court ruling the centerpiece of his campaign. Polls showed the runoff between the top two vote-getters to be too close to call, but on election day, marriage-equality supporter Carlos Alvarado won in a landslide — 61% to 39%.


On July 22, 2018, the National Assembly unanimously passed the first draft of a new constitution containing marriage equality. A three-month public consultation followed, ending Nov. 15. Suggestions submitted during the consultation, including from Cubans living abroad, are being considered for the second draft, which will go to a voter referendum on Feb. 24, 2019, after clearing the National Assembly. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is a supporter of marriage equality.


In September 2018, 17 years after the dawn of marriage equality in the Netherlands, activists in Curaçao, a Dutch constituent country in the Caribbean Sea, wrote a marriage-equality bill and introduced it in Parliament. The initiative was unveiled at a Curaçao Pride event and dubbed "the first marriage equality bill of the Caribbean to be drawn up by our own people." Dutch Caribbean overseas municipalities Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius have marriage equality, while Caribbean constituent countries Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten do not, though they partially recognize Dutch marriages from elsewhere.

Czech Republic

On June 22, 2018, the Czech Republic government threw its support behind a bill to modify the Civil Code to bring in marriage equality. The Czech Republic would be the first former-Eastern-Bloc nation to let same-sex couples marry. The bill will have to proceed from the Chamber of Deputies to the Senate to the president.


In July 2018, the Constitutional Court president, Alfredo Ruiz, met with LGBTI leaders and told them a majority of the court's justices will vote for marriage equality and gay adoption when a case gets there, the LGBTI leaders said.

In June 2018, a family court in Cuenca ruled in two cases that two same-sex couples would be allowed to marry as soon as the court issued its ruling in written form. The judges based their decisions on the January 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights marriage-equality ruling and Ecuador's constitution. An appeals court overturned one of the rulings in September 2018, saying the issue should be dealt with by the National Assembly or the Constitutional Court.


An anti-marriage-equality bill cleared two of three readings in the unicameral Congress and remains pending. Even though marriage is already defined in law as between a man and a woman, Bill 5272, Law for Protection of Life and Family, explicitly bans marriage for same-sex couples — contravening the January 2018 marriage-equality ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is binding on Guatemala. Should the bill pass, activists say they will sue in the Constitutional Court and, if they lose, go to the Inter-American system.

On Aug. 31, 2018, President Jimmy Morales said [5:54 mark in video]: "I remind the people of Guatemala that their institutions and their officials, according to Article 156 of the Political Constitution of the Republic, are not obligated to follow illegal orders. Guatemala and our government believe in life. Our government and Guatemala believe in the family based in the marriage of man and woman."

The bill's page at CongressThe billActivists' analysisMore from Guatemala's VisiblesAmnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch


In May 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice accepted a lawsuit seeking to enforce the January 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that instructed 20 Americas nations to bring in marriage equality and modern gender-identity laws. The lawsuit aims to strike down an article of the Constitution that bans marriage equality and recognition of same-sex couples' foreign marriages and civil unions. It also targets a Family Code article that extends marriage rights to opposite-sex de facto unions but not same-sex unions, and the Law on the National Registry of Persons, which effectively prevents transgender people from changing their name.

On Oct. 12, 2018, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández told reporters at a press conference: "Personally as a Christian I am against marriage of persons of the same sex; obviously, it is the judiciary that, according to Honduran law, has to rule on it. [Regardless of sexual preferences] people should be treated with dignity, no matter what their inclination. People should be treated with dignity and this issue is very important."

On Nov. 10, 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed a second marriage-equality lawsuit, an action of unconstitutionality filed by activist groups, saying the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate "their direct, personal and legitimate interest" in the matter and made technical errors in their filing. The original case, filed by activist Indyra María Mendoza Aguilar, remains pending.


On Nov. 14, 2018, Japanese same-sex couples announced they will file a barrage of marriage-equality lawsuits in district courts in multiple cities.


A constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India unanimously legalized gay sex Sept. 6, 2018, decriminalizing 18% of LGBT people on the planet. Adults having sex in private can no longer be jailed for "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." Given the court ruling's expansive language, LGBT activists immediately began talking about marriage equality.


Mexico can only get marriage equality state by state. Thirteen of the 31 states and the federal district Mexico City have gotten there, leaving 18 states to go. I have a separate article with the details here.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, doesn't have a government because the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin power-sharing agreement collapsed in January 2017 and hasn't been restored due to disagreement about marriage equality, local language rights and other issues. It is possible any resolution to the impasse could see introduction of equal marriage in the last major area of the United Kingdom that doesn't have it. There are also ongoing efforts to bring in marriage equality via a vote of the UK Parliament in London and via court challenges.


Lawyer Iván Chanis Barahona, head of Panama's marriage-equality group, La Fundación Iguales Panamá, says the January 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights marriage-equality ruling is "totally binding" on Panama. "Case closed." A Panama Supreme Court of Justice draft opinion rejecting marriage equality that had been circulating at the court was withdrawn on Feb. 15, 2018, because of the Inter-American Court ruling. On Jan. 16, 2018, Panamanian Vice President Isabel De Saint Malo said the Inter-American court ruling is indeed binding ("vinculante") on Panama..


In the wake of the January 2018 marriage-equality ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, activist group SomosGay announced two new lawsuits at the nation's Supreme Court of Justice. As a first step, the suits seek recognition of two marriages of same-sex couples who married abroad.


In the wake of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' January 2018 marriage-equality ruling, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Duberlí Rodríguez, said, "Peru is part of the Inter-American system, and the organism that defends and protects these rights is called the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and ... if the court has taken a decision, I believe that all the parties are called to respect that decision." In March 2018, a court ruling that had forced the national registry to register veteran activist Óscar Ugarteche's Mexican marriage to his husband was overturned on a technicality related to the timing of the filing of his lawsuit. He appealed to the Constitutional Court, which heard the case June 20 and was supposed to rule within 30 days. It is the court's first-ever case related to marriage equality. A marriage-equality bill was introduced in Congress in 2017 and is awaiting action by the Justice Committee.


The Supreme Court finished hearing oral arguments in a marriage-equality case on June 26, 2018. Multiple media reports speculated that the justices will find a way to rid themselves of the case without legalizing marriage equality. President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support for marriage equality but the government later suggested the nation is not ready for it.


An attempt to obstruct marriage equality by rewriting the definition of "family" in the constitution failed Oct. 7, 2018, when an inadequate percentage of voters showed up to vote in a nationwide referendum. Thirty percent of all voters needed to cast a ballot for the referendum result to be valid, but only 20.41 percent did. LGBT leaders and others had called on voters to boycott the referendum. On September 28, 2018, Romania's Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex couples must have the same "legal and juridical recognition of their rights and obligations" as opposite-sex couples.


Switzerland's Federal Assembly is slow-walking the transition from same-sex civil partnerships to marriage equality and some activists have become impatient with the seemingly endless process. The only nations in Western Europe without marriage equality are Andorra, Austria (coming soon), Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland, Vatican City, and the UK's Northern Ireland.


On Nov. 24, 2018, LGBTs lost voter referendums on marriage equality by wide margins. In rejecting marriage equality, voters approved the idea of a new law for same-sex couples, saying 'yes' to, "Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in cohabitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code?"

According to Article 30 of Taiwan's Referendum Act, the executive branch of government has three months to study the referendum results and send a proposal to the legislative branch, which then must deliberate on the proposal before its next adjournment.

If the Legislative Yuan passes nothing between now and late May 2019, marriage equality will arrive automatically in Taiwan under a May 2017 Constitutional Court ruling that struck down the opposite-sex definition of marriage as unconstitutional and gave the legislature two years to change laws. If the Legislative Yuan passes something less than marriage equality before the deadline, legal wrangling likely will ensue over the conflict between the new law and the Constitutional Court ruling.

Freedom to Marry Global's Evan Wolfson said: "Whatever the results may be, legislative acts and referenda alike must be consistent with the Constitution — the supreme law of the land enacted by the people — and cannot block or override the command of the Constitution as reflected in the Court's marriage ruling. Even a temporary majority cannot just strip away constitutional rights from a vulnerable minority."


On the cusp of achieving a "Life Partnership Bill," Thai activists are planning a three-pronged approach to get to full equality — further amendments to the Partnership Bill, attempting to amend the marriage section of the Civil Code, and getting the Constitutional Court to add same-sex couples to the marriage section of the Civil Code.


Two marriage-equality lawsuits are in their final stage in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, according to Venezuela Igualitaria. One lawsuit targets a Civil Code article that says, "Marriage cannot be contracted except between one man and one woman." The other lawsuit alleges a "legislative omission" resulting from the National Assembly's failure to take up the Equal Civil Marriage Bill (Proyecto de Ley de Matrimonio Civil Igualitario). In September 2018, the president of the National Constituent Assembly's Constitution Committee said a new constitution being drafted likely will include marriage equality.

(Venezuela has dueling national assemblies at this point. The National Assembly is controlled by the opposition while the National Constituent Assembly is "officialist." Both are reported to favor marriage equality.)