LONDON (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal this month to review rulings that overturned bans on same-sex marriage marked a milestone in gay rights in the United States. Around the world, many countries have come to accept such unions as part of the tapestry of everyday life. But there are still pockets of resistance. Here is a look at some countries that have made same-sex marriage common practice:
BRITAIN WAITS, ACCEPTS:
In 1992, five same-sex couples in London applied for marriage licenses in one of the opening salvos of the battle for what campaigners call “marriage equality.”
The license bid was denied — to no one’s surprise — and one of the organizers, rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said that most gay people at the time believed same-sex marriage to be an “impossible, unattainable” goal.
It took until March, 2014, for same-sex couples to be able to marry in Britain, after a lengthy period in which civil partnerships were allowed. But even in its first year the practice of men marrying men and women marrying women has become widely accepted.
“People see that same-sex marriage hasn’t caused the collapse of civilization,” said Tatchell. “They see friends and family who got married and feel very happy for them. It’s been a great joy to witness.”
The process seems to be working smoothly, said Natalie Banner, who recently married Elysia Rose Jenson in central London. She said her partner had to obtain a “fiancee’s visa” to enter Britain from New Zealand and didn’t encounter any obstacles.
“We didn’t face any difficulties as a same-sex couple,” said Banner. “We were apprehensive, we didn’t know if there would be closer scrutiny, but we had no problems whatsoever.”
When it came time to fill out forms, they found a space for the “bride” and the “groom” — and simply crossed out the word “groom” and wrote in “bride.”
Banner said the marriage is more meaningful to her than a civil partnership would have been.
“Legally the rights are the same, but there’s something about the legitimacy of marriage, of being able to call my partner my wife,” she said. “It does lend an air of validity to the relationship.”
MAORI LOVE SONGS:
New Zealand last year became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize gay marriage. Parliament’s groundbreaking vote prompted raucous cheers by gay rights supporters and sparked an impromptu concert of sorts: After the tally was announced, people watching from the public gallery and some lawmakers began to sing the New Zealand love song “Pokarekare Ana” in the indigenous Maori language.
Most political party leaders had encouraged lawmakers to vote their conscience rather than along party lines, and the bill was supported by center-right Prime Minister John Key.
Between August 2013, when the law went into effect, and June 2014, the most recent month for which data is available, there were 870 same-sex marriages registered in New Zealand. A large number of gay couples who have married in New Zealand are from neighboring Australia, where same sex marriage remains illegal.
The change in the law has not been without its hiccups. In September, the marriage of two men prompted criticism from an unexpected source: gay rights groups. Longtime friends Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick, both heterosexual, got married in Auckland as part of a local radio station’s “Love Your Man” competition. The prize: tickets to next year’s Rugby World Cup in Britain.
Gay rights activists said the stunt made a mockery of the institution of marriage at a time when gay and lesbian couples are still barred in most countries from marrying one another.
The Netherlands in 2001 became the world’s first country to legalize gay marriage. The unions are broadly accepted, but still sometimes raise eyebrows, says wedding planner Margot Nieuwold, whose business Magnificent Weddings caters to both heterosexual and homosexual.
“People still sometimes find it a bit strange when they see two men arriving. They still look for the bride,” Nieuwold said. “It is still not the first picture you have in your head of a wedding.”
While the vast majority of the Netherlands accepts gay marriages, there remain outposts in some religious municipalities where gay couples are not welcomed with open arms.
Ten years after legalization, members of a linguists’ organization called Onze Taal (Our Language) voted the word “weigerambtenaar,” a term for a civil servant who refuses to carry out gay weddings, their 2011 word of the year.
But even that barrier is falling. In June, the Dutch parliament’s upper house approved legislation that bans municipalities from hiring such civil servants.
“There are still religious areas in the Netherlands where municipalities or venues can be difficult for gay couples, regardless of the fact that it is legal,” said Nieuwold.
SOUTH AFRICAN FIRST:
South Africa’s constitution is one of the world’s most liberal — and the country legalized gay marriage through the Civil Union Act in 2006. That breakthrough came after activists petitioned the country’s constitutional court to force Parliament to extend the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
Matuba Mahlatjie, one of the activists who made submissions to Parliament, said the change restored his faith in South Africa’s democracy. He has taken advantage of the new law, marrying a man and raising a son with him — something he said he had never even dreamed about as a young activist.
Despite marked progress on the legal front, he knows many anti-gay stereotypes are common in South Africa.
“The history of this country left the majority of the black population illiterate and poor,” he said. “Attending workshops on hate crimes is the last thing on their mind because they are hungry. It is therefore easy for them to hate and destroy rather than trying to understand.”
Mahlatjie followed what is locally believed to be his ancestral calling and is a trained Sangoma — a traditional healer or shaman. He says the intense spiritual preparation he received and his prominent position in his community have helped dispel some misconceptions about homosexuality.
“My becoming a healer contradicts the notion that being gay is un-African,” he said. “I am a custodian of Africa’s important and sacred teachings. Being gay does not separate me from being an African.”
SPANISH WINGS OF LOVE:
There were joyous celebrations in 2005 when Spain became the third European country to legalize same-sex marriage.
The practice made headlines again a year later when Spain’s military — once a fusty remnant of a right-wing regime tied to the Roman Catholic Church — was rocked by its first public taste of gay marriage. Alberto Linero, then 27, and Alberto Sanchez, then 24, both privates in the air force, wore crisp, dark-blue dress uniforms with red and gold epaulets as they exchanged vows and kissed in an elegant, chandeliered reception room at Seville’s town hall.
The two grooms were married by Mayor Alfredo Sanchez Monteseirin, who said the wedding marked a victory for gay people everywhere who had suffered under age-old discrimination.
The laws irked the church and the country’s conservative establishment, which accused the Socialist government of badly undermining the nation’s traditional values. The conservative opposition Popular Party vowed to reverse the law the moment it was elected into office.
However, once in power — and with a large majority in Parliament — Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declined to act on its pledge and left the legislation untouched in the face of polls showing that Spaniards overwhelming favor gay marriage.