1989 – Denmark first in global shift towards marriage equality 

Lesbian and gay people have fought openly to achieve legal recognition of their relationships for at least half a century. Denmark became the first country to legally recognise same-sex unions after passing a bill legalising ‘registered partnerships’ in 1989.

Eleven years later, the Netherlands became the first to recognise marriage equality, since which many other countries have followed suit.

The legislation has been a result of decades-long concerted campaigning and public awareness campaigns that have caused a cultural shift towards acceptance and support for gay rights.

Annual pride marches, public campaigns against discrimination and homophobic attacks as well as direct action against discriminatory companies and politicians by more radical grassroots activists all played an important role in shifting attitudes and forging a strong movement. But perhaps most importantly they provided the basis in which more and more individuals felt emboldened to ‘come out’ publicly.

This gathered ever more momentum as public celebrities from sportswomen, to judges, to politicians to faith leaders also came out – winning public support in the process and making homophobic views publicly unacceptable.

The result was a sea-change in attitudes. In the US, for example, support for gay marriage increased from only 11% in 1988 to 56% in 2015. Similarly in Ireland, where homosexuality was illegal prior to 1993, 60% of the population voted in a landslide in favour of marriage equality in 2015.

Lobbying efforts started to bear fruit, reversing anti-gay legislation (such as Clause 28 in the UK) and advancing an agenda of LGBT equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal (nationwide or in some parts) in 22 countries. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in July 15, 2010, becoming the first country in Latin America, the second in the Americas, and the tenth in the world to do so thanks to powerful campaigns by pressure groups.

The focus on marriage equality has led to critiques on the emphasis placed on securing marriage – an institution historically entrenched in patriarchal structures – however the recognition of same-sex marriage has also been seen as a way to extend rights to essential state benefits, such as health insurance and reproductive benefits, and the complex legacy that marriage as a right embodies.

The struggle for real equality, though, is far from over. Homosexuality itself remains explicitly illegal in 72 countries, homophobic attacks continue at a disturbing rate, and even countries with marriage equality do not always ensure full rights to their LGBTIQ citizens.

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