Marriage update – Europe

Timothy Kincaid

January 27th, 2013

It’s getting marriagey all over the place. And it’s also getting hard to keep track of what is going on where. So here is an update to help (which will almost certainly be outdated by the time I hit “publish”).


Netherlands – marriage has been equaul since 2001. The first legally recognized same-sex marriages in the modern world took place here.

Belgium – marriage has been equal since 2003.

Spain – marriage has been equal since 2005.

Norway – marriage has been equal since 2009.

Sweden – marriage has been equal since 2009.

Portugal – marriage has been equal since 2010.

Iceland – marriage has been equal since 2010.

Denmark – marriage has been equal since 2012.

In addition, a number of nations offer various levels of couple recognition, several of which are in flux.

England and Wales – Since 2004 the United Kingdom has had “civil partnerships”. In a move that is reversed from that of many countries, while civil recognition is allowed, religious officiation has been banned. In fact, religious symbols, readings and music are prohibited and until 2010 they could not take place in a religious venue.

Before David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, he set about changing the Conservative Party’s position on gay issues, including promoting gay MP candidates, apologizing for anti-gay Section 28, and even promoting gay tolerance to the US’s Republican Party. Yet still it surprised many when in the fall of 2011 he announced that he strongly supports equality and the government introduced the process of bringing a marriage bill. After a lenthly review process and public input, the marriage bill has been introduced and will be brought for vote on February 5th. While the Tory party is split (and Cameron is allowing a “conscience” vote), Labour favors the bill and it should sail to law.

In an odd twist, churches may opt-in and conduct religious ceremonies – with one exception. Because the Church of England and the Church of Wales are official state churches, parliament weighs in on doctrinal and procedural change. So those churches are excluded from opting-in on marriage and Anglican ministers are forbidden to participate until parliament votes to lift the ban. Althouth the Anglican Church had whined for a year about Teh Ghey, the Archbishop of Wales was not happy by being told that they didn’t have a choice. Nevertheless, Quakers and Reformed Jews are delighted.

Scotland – in a procedure separate but mirroring that in England, Scotland’s government announced in July 2012 that it would bring a marriage bill. Plans were laid out last month, but in a departure from England and Wales, in Scotland no church will be banned from participation (the Church of Scotland, though emotionally associated, is Presbyterian and not a state church; the state has no say in its theology.) Drafting of language will last until March when a bill will be introduced.

France – since 1999, France has offered same-sex couples Pacte civil de solidarité (PACS), Europe’s weakest form of recognition. Efforts for greater recognition have been rebuffed.

However, during his campaign, Socialist candidate François Hollande promised support for marriage and, after his May 2012 election he made good on his promise. In early November, a bill was presented to allow for marriage equality and to allow same-sex couple adoption.

France, though long thought to be a rather secular nation, is nominally Catholic. But that nominalism was put to the test in the past few months as a fierce campaign by the Catholic Church has resulted in nationwide protests, including a street protest in Paris of hundreds of thousands. A somewhat smaller – but still a quarter of a million people – poured into the streets today to counter-protest in support of equality.

The legislature will vote this Tuesday on this bill.

Poland – on Friday, the legislature rejected three bills that would have given recognition to same-sex couples. The weakest of these, a bill similar to France’s PACS, failed 228 to 211. While a setback, the closeness of the vote holds hope for future efforts.

Luxembourg – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the tiny nation between Germany, France, and Switzerland, has long had colic unions. However, the Prime Minister has announced that marriage equality will be a priority in the next


January 30th, 2013


The Church in Wales (EyN) is not an established (i.e. state) church. The EyN was both disestablished and split off from the CofE under the Welsh Church Act a century ago, however it retains some of the obligations of an established church which could be affected by a change in the law to allow gay marriage.

Established churches like the CofE, Church of Denmark and (in Italy) the Roman Catholic Chuch are considered state agencies, which partly excludes them from European laws guaranteeing religious liberty. This means that it is theoretically possible for a gay couple to take the CofE to the European Court of Human Rights, on the basis that as a government agency the CofE has a legal obligation to solemnise a government-sanctioned marriage.

However this is not the case for formally disestablished churches like the EyN, as they get the same protections as other non-established religious groups, so the EyN was investigating taking the British government to the European Court of Human Rights over the potential ban, on the basis that it would infringe the church’s right to choose whether or not to conduct gay marriages. Consequently the current form of the bill now has a section which explicitly protects the EyN’s right to make that choice itself.

Timothy Kincaid

January 30th, 2013

Thank you, Tavdy

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