Around the globe, the institution of marriage is still in a flux as governments decide whether or not to allow gay couples the right to marry. In 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage. It was a landmark bill that was passed by the Dutch parliament and won by a three-to-one margin. As the first country to legalize gay marriage, the Dutch legislation also gave same-sex couples the right to adopt children and divorce.
Opposition was present from the Christian Democratic Party. After the law was passed, the Protestant Church announced that individual congregations could use their own discretion on whether or not to conduct gay ceremonies. There are still Christian and Muslim groups that oppose gay marriage in the Netherlands, but gay marriage is widely accepted by the Dutch population.
In April 2001, the mayor of Amsterdam carried out the official duties for the first four gay couples. Within nine months after the passage of the new law, over 2,500 same-sex couples married in the Netherlands. According to government figures, the yearly number of gay marriages declined from 2002 through 2007.
Other countries that allow gay marriage include: Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway and Sweden. Belgium parliament legalized gay marriage in 2003. Belgium’s legislation also gave same-sex couples the same inheritance and tax rights as heterosexual couples. At the time of legalization of gay marriage, the traditional Christian Democratic Party was out of power and influence. As of 2006, approximately 3,500 gay marriages were performed.
Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 with a closely divided Spanish parliament. At the time, the law was strongly criticized by Vatican officials and the Catholic Spanish Bishops Conference. Even after the law was passed, two lower municipal court judges refused to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This decision was overturned by the higher courts. By the end of 2011, more than 21,000 gay couples were married in Spain. In November 2012 Spain's highest Spain's highest court upheld the country's gay marriage law. The county's top court voted 8-3 to dismiss the appeal of the conservative Popular Party filed shortly after Spain became the world's third country to approve gay marriage.
In 2005, the Canadian parliament passed legislation for gay marriage. A survey by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation conducted several months after the law was passed revealed that 52 percent of Canadians opposed the legalization of same-sex couples.
Just one year after South Africa’s highest court ruled that the existing marriage laws violated equal rights, the South African parliament enacted legalized gay marriage law in 2006. Under the new law, religious institutions and civil officers can still refuse to conduct a gay marriage ceremony. Support was strong for same-sex marriage by the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance. However, the traditional monarch of the Zulu people still maintains that homosexuality is wrong.
Replacing the 1993 law permitting civil unions, Norway passed gay marriage legislation in 2009. The law includes that same-sex couples can undergo artificial insemination and adopt children. In 2009, the Swedish parliament passed gay marriage legalization with an overwhelming majority.