Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce across the World

Navigating divorce is challenging enough, but for LGBTQ+ couples, the landscape can be even more intricate. Our aim in this blog post is to shed light on the rules of same-sex marriage and divorce around the world. If you're considering a same-sex divorce, or simply want to understand the legalities better, we encourage you to read on. 

Countries where same-sex marriage is legal

Let’s start with the countries that have embraced marriage equality. The U.S., Canada, and numerous European Union countries have made significant strides in this area, providing a legal framework for gay couples to marry and, if necessary, divorce.

In the U.S., gay marriage became legal nationwide in 2015 following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. This decision meant that all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Canada legalized same-sex marriage province by province, with the last one ratifying in 2005. The country has been a pioneer in promoting LGBTQ+ rights, and its laws reflect this progressive stance.

In the European Union, the picture varies. Countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and others have legalized same-sex marriage. However, some EU countries do not yet recognize same-sex marriage.

Same-sex divorce

As for divorce in the U.S., same-sex divorce follows the same process as heterosexual divorce. This includes the division of assets, child custody, alimony, and all other issues. However, complexities can arise, especially for couples who married before the 2015 ruling and are now seeking a divorce.

In terms of divorce, Canada's Divorce Act applies to all married couples, regardless of gender. The law considers factors such as length of the marriage, roles during the marriage, and financial circumstances when deciding on matters like spousal support and property division.

Divorce laws also vary across the EU, but most countries offer similar rights and protections to straight couples as they do opposite-sex couples. For instance, in the Netherlands, the divorce procedure for same-sex couples mirrors that of heterosexual couples, with considerations made for alimony, child custody, and property division.

Countries where same-sex relationships are criminal

While the world has made significant strides in recognizing and legalizing same-sex marriages, not all nations have adopted such progressive views. Some countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, often due to deeply ingrained cultural, religious, or traditional beliefs.


In Iran, same-sex relationships are considered illegal under the country's Islamic Penal Code. The punishment for engaging in consensual same-sex activities is severe, ranging from imprisonment to even the death penalty in extreme cases. Here, religious law largely influences the legal system, with homosexuality viewed as a moral transgression against divine laws.


With one of the harshest anti-gay laws on the books, Uganda is another country where same-sex relationships are criminalized. The Anti-Homosexuality Act, initially introduced in 2009 and signed into law in 2014, proposed life imprisonment and the death penalty for same-sex acts. Clearly, this law goes well beyond simply forbidding same-sex marriage and harshly criminalizes simply being gay.


In Russia, while homosexuality itself is not explicitly illegal, the country has been widely criticized for its "gay propaganda" law. This law essentially prohibits any public expression or discussion of homosexuality, effectively marginalizing and silencing the LGBTQ+ community. The legislation reflects the country's traditional and conservative societal values, which often clash with the push for LGBTQ+ rights.

Why is it viewed this way?

Same-sex marriage is often viewed negatively in many parts of the world due to deeply entrenched societal norms and beliefs. Religion plays a significant role, with many faiths traditionally condemning homosexuality as immoral or sinful. Cultural traditions and societal norms often dictate heterosexual marriages as the norm, viewing anything outside this as an aberration.

This resistance to change is further reinforced by laws that criminalize same-sex relationships, perpetuating a cycle of discrimination and prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, the intersection of religious, cultural, and legal factors contributes to the widespread negative perception of same-sex marriage.

Regional differences within countries

Even within countries that legally recognize same-sex marriage, regional differences can exist. These disparities can be attributed to varied cultural, religious, and political beliefs across different regions. The U.S. exemplifies this phenomenon quite well.

Before the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell, individual states had the autonomy to determine their stance on this issue. This led to a patchwork of laws, with some states embracing marriage equality well before others.

For instance, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Other states followed suit, but many resisted, leading to a wide disparity in the recognition of same-sex marriages across the country.

Even after the nationwide legalization, regional differences persist. Public opinion on same-sex marriage varies widely across different states and regions. For example, central Southern states such as Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas have shown less support for same-sex marriage compared to other regions.

The evolution of marriage

Marriage, as an institution, has evolved significantly over the years. Historically, it was primarily a heterosexual union, often rooted in economic or political arrangements rather than love or personal choice. However, societal attitudes towards marriage have changed dramatically in recent decades, with a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.

This shift is largely due to increased advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, leading to legislative changes that recognize and protect these relationships. For example, Denmark became the first country to legalize same-sex partnerships in 1989. Since then, many other countries have followed suit, signaling a global shift toward marriage equality.

Yet, the journey toward universal recognition of same-sex marriage is still ongoing. Even today, some countries are only just beginning to recognize these unions. For instance, Estonia, despite being one of the few former Soviet states with a strong track record on LGBTQ+ rights, only legalized same-sex marriage in 2023.

This gradual but significant evolution of marriage underscores the changing global landscape. It illustrates the increasing recognition of diverse relationships and the ongoing fight for equal rights and acceptance.

Suggested: LGBTQ+ Guide to Divorce and Separation


Justice Laws Website. Government of Canada.
Same-Sex Marriage Around the World. Pew Research Center.
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Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.