Same-sex marriage and surrogacy: where is it legal?

Cubans have voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage, making the country the 33rd to stop defining marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.

Cuba’s landmark new family code also allows “altruistic” surrogacy, whereby a woman gives birth to a baby on behalf of another woman or couple but no money changes hands, bar for expenses.

Here is a global overview of same-sex marriage and surrogacy: 

Europe, gay marriage pioneers – 

The Netherlands in 2001 became the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Since then, 17 European countries have followed: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and Switzerland. Most also allow same-sex couples to adopt.

Some countries allow same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships but not to marry, namely the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Italy.

Most eastern European countries allow neither gay marriage nor civil partnerships.

In Russia, homosexuality was considered a crime up to 1993 and a mental illness until 1999. Now legal, a 2013 law however punishes the promotion of homosexuality among minors. 

In Hungary, a law passed in 2021 made “promoting” homosexuality or gender change to minors punishable by a fine.

Assisted reproduction for lesbian couples is allowed in 12 European countries; the Nordic countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain Austria, Ireland and France.

Far fewer countries allow surrogate motherhood, with critics slamming the practise, which is permitted in Russia and Ukraine as turning women into “wombs for hire”. 

“Altruistic” surrogacy is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom but France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and a handful of other countries forbid all surrogacy.

Advances in Americas –

Canada was the first American country to authorise same-sex marriage in 2005. Same-sex adoptions, medically assisted reproduction and altruistic surrogacy is also allowed.

It took another 10 years for the Supreme Court in the United States to rule that the constitution guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage.

But following the court’s recent U-turn on abortion rights many activists are worried that the justices could now have a change of heart on same-sex marriage also. 

Commercial surrogacy is permitted in some US states.

In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay and now also Cuba allow same-sex marriage. Several countries, like Brazil and Colombia, also allow non-commercial surrogacy.

Mexico’s federal capital was the pioneer in the region, authorising gay civil unions in 2007 and marriages in 2009. The vast majority of Mexico’s 32 states have since followed suit. 

Taiwan first in Asia –

While much of Asia is tolerant of homosexuality, Taiwan became the first in the region to allow same-sex marriage after a landmark ruling by its Constitutional Court in 2017.

Vietnam decriminalised same-sex marriage celebrations in 2015 but stopped short of legally recognising the unions.

Thailand in June 2022 took a step towards same-sex marriage when lawmakers gave initial approval to legalising the unions.

India’s Supreme Court in 2018 decriminalised gay sex and in August 2022, Singapore in August announced that it would do likewise.

Thailand and India, both leading destinations for commercial surrogacy in the past, have clamped down on the practise in recent years.

Gay marriage and adoption are allowed in New Zealand and Australia.

Near blanket ban in Africa –

South Africa is the sole nation on the African continent to allow gay marriage, which it legalised in 2006, but it bans commercial surrogacy.

Around 30 African countries ban homosexuality, with Mauritania, Somalia and Sudan having the death penalty for same-sex relations. 

Gay sex is allowed or has been decriminalised in Angola, Botswana, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Rwanda, and the Seychelles.

Middle East: still repressive –

Several countries in the Middle East still have the death penalty for homosexuality, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Israel leads the way in terms of gay rights, recognising same-sex marriages that are performed elsewhere although not allowing such unions in the country itself. Gay couples can adopt children.