Data | In 133 countries homosexuality decriminalised, but only in 32 of them same-sex marriage is legal

Even though homosexuality is legal in many countries, the idea of same-sex marriage is still anathema to them

January 15, 2023 09:30 am | Updated 12:08 pm IST

Same-sex marriage rights: Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters march demanding equal marriage rights in New Delhi on Jan.8 2023.

Same-sex marriage rights: Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters march demanding equal marriage rights in New Delhi on Jan.8 2023.

On Sunday, over 2,000 members and supporters of the LGBTQ community took to the streets of New Delhi to press for equal marriage rights, after the Supreme Court on Friday transferred to itself petitions pending in various High Courts seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The members returned after a three-year break forced by COVID-19. This time their hopes have been raised by the Supreme Court’s move. “We need to really focus on those rights like inheriting properties together (and) opening bank accounts. Marriage is one big thing because once marriage comes into play then all these other aspects of the rights will be met,” Ajay Chauhan, a participant in Sunday’s march, told AFP.

The Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018 and held that the criminalisation of sexual relationships between adults of the same sex was unconstitutional. However, the Indian government has resisted previous attempts to formally recognise same-sex relationships in cases heard in lower courts. In 2021, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta told the Delhi High Court that according to law, marriage was permissible between a “biological man” and a “biological woman”. The Centre also argued against the urgency of the pleas by saying nobody was “dying” in the absence of a marriage certificate.

The Centre’s position on the issue is not unique given that currently, more than 6.77 billion people around the world are living in countries where same-sex marriage is not legal, while only 1.21 billion are living in nations where it is legal. Until 2000, the year in which the Netherlands made same-sex marriage legal, in no country was it allowed. Chart 1 shows the progress since the year.

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A favourable ruling by the Supreme Court in March could pave way for the nation of 1.4 billion people to become the second jurisdiction in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage after Taiwan. As shown in chart 3, only 32 countries have legalised same-sex marriage. While it is not legal in 10 countries, same-sex couples do enjoy certain rights there, whereas, in the rest of the 91, it is currently illegal. Map 2 depicts the geographical spread of same-sex marriage recognition as of 2022. While most of the countries in Europe, Oceania, North and South America have legalised same-sex marriage or have given restricted rights to such couples, the nations which did the same in Asia and Africa were few and far between.

Notably, in many of these Asian and African nations, homosexuality stopped being considered a criminal offence in recent decades. However, legal status has not been given to same-sex marriages.  However, legal status has not been given to same-sex marriages. As shown in Chart 3, of the 133 nations in which same-sex relationships have been decriminalised, in 91 same-sex marriages are not legalised. 

Three days before the Delhi Queer Pride march, opponents to same-sex marriage — including right-wing Hindu groups — staged a small demonstration outside the Supreme Court. In India, acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriages have generally been low among the public. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center across 34 countries between May 13 and October 2, 2019, only 37% of respondents from India said that homosexuality should be accepted by society. In 23 of the 34 countries, a higher share of respondents said that it should be accepted, as shown in chart 4.

Notably, over 25% of the respondents in India, refused to answer the question or said they did not know the answer — the second-highest share among the 34 nations surveyed. This shows reluctance to offer an opinion on the subject, which is considered taboo by many in India.

(with inputs from AP, AFP)

Source: ourworldindata, Pew Research Center

Also read: India’s lingering homophobia

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