Hello, thank you very much for you interesting and timely question.
Below I have attempted to outline the process by which some of the
countries referenced in your question came to recognize equal marriage
rights. I also commented on some of the lessons that we can learn from
the movements that spurred this action, while drawing distinctions and
parallels between these case studies and the current situation in the
I focused especially on Canada, because of the great parallels
involved, as Canada and the U.S. are most similar culturally.
"In 1999, gays and lesbians scored a major victory when the Supreme
Court of Canada ruled that gay and lesbian couples should have the
same rights at heterosexual common-law couples. This forced the
federal Liberal government to pass a bill in 2000 amending 68 federal
statutes, including pension benefits, bankruptcy protection, income
taxes, old age security, and immigration, among others. Legal
marriage, however, remained defined as being between a man and a
Between 2002 and 2004, several courts ruled that restricting marriage
to opposite-sex couples is discriminatory, and struck down the federal
definition. The first ruling required the federal government to draft
legislation recognizing same-sex marriage, but later rulings brought
the new definition into effect immediately in the jurisdictions
concerned. Canada thereby became the third country in the world to
allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands and Belgium."
"Egale Canada was founded in 1986 to advance equality for Canadian
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and their families,
across Canada. Egale's work includes: carrying out political action to
lobby for more equitable laws for LGBT people; intervening in legal
cases that have an impact on human rights and equality; increasing
public education and awareness by providing information to
individuals, groups and media. Egale has over 3,300 members including
people in each and every province and territory of Canada.
The organisation was initially named "Equality for Gays and Lesbians
Everywhere". As they began to also lobby for bisexual and
transgendered issues, it was felt that the acronym was uninclusive,
therefore the change from the acronym E.G.A.L.E. to simply "Egale".
(égale being the French word for "equal")"
Action on gay marriage
"They successfully lobbied for the introduction and passage of Bill
C-23, which amended some 68 federal statutes to treat same-sex couples
equally with opposite-sex married couples. They supported union
activities and lobbied the federal government in support of equal
employment benefits to those in same-sex relationships; coordinated
coalitions of equality groups in cases on same-sex pension benefits
and equal funeral leave for same-sex families. They intervened before
the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the opposite-sex definition
of "spouse" in the Old Age Security Act (Egan v. Canada); though
unsuccessful, this case did set a unanimous precedent by which sexual
orientation is read into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
as a forbidden grounds of discrimination. They also successfully
challenged the opposite-sex definition of "spouse" in Ontario?s Family
Law Act (M & H v Ontario), which extended the right to common-law
marriage to same-sex couples. They convinced Statistics Canada to
include same-sex families in the nation-wide census, and worked with
LEGIT to advance equal immigration rights for gays and lesbians."
Articles of interest:
Supreme Court Upholds Equal Marriage Legislation
December 9, 2004
<<?The Supreme Court today gave a green light to the government?s
proposed equal marriage legislation, reflecting Canadian values and
Canadians? commitment to fairness,? >>
One important observation that I have made in reviewing the literature
of this group is that they do an admirable job of framing the debate
and the language used.
Using the term "equal marriage" as opposed to "gay marriage" seems to
be an effective rhetorical tool. Conservatives in the United States
are especially apt at framing the language of the debate to best serve
their ends. The terminology "pro-life" is a strong example of this
methodology. I mean, aside from killers, who isn't pro-life?
Similarly, while the gay rights movement has empowered itself by
embracing terms like "gay" and "queer", it may not serve the interests
of the movement in the mainstream to frame the agenda in these terms.
Anti-gay factions have used the term "gay marriage" as a scare tactic,
playing to the fears of some religious and traditional Americans.
When the end is framed, instead, as "equal marriage", the true crux of
the issue from the perspective of the pro-gay marriage movement is
evident. There is no desire to create a new sub-category, or to strip
heterosexuals of their marriage rights, instead, the end is for ALL to
enjoy the EQUAL right to marriage. No one looses in this initiative.
Join Egale in protesting Bush?s anti-gay policies!
November 27, 2004
"In solidarity with LGBT Americans seeking equality, and with the many
progressive groups protesting the erosion of human rights under George
W. Bush, Egale Canada will be joining the November 30th noon peaceful
protest for justice, freedom and equality in Ottawa. We invite all
Egale members and supporters who can do so, to join us in highlighting
Bush?s regressive and anti-equality policies and in calling for an end
to his war on LGBT Americans!"
Canadians for Equal Marriage
"A nation-wide, bilingual campaign to undertake a grassroots lobbying
effort on same-sex marriage."
Articles of interest:
Supreme Court ruling - a victory for all ...
Dec 13, 2004
"The evidence shows that excluding same-sex couples from civil
marriage sends the message that they are inferior and reinforces the
stigma surrounding homosexuality. This does terrible damage to the
lives of gays and lesbians, as well as their children. "
This is another powerful example of how these organizations have
effectively framed the debate and, in turn, influenced the highest
court's decision. Citing evidence that denying marriage rights
stigmatizes homosexuals focuses on the impact of the the current
policy on a group of people. Instead of attempting to justify the
right in and of itself, this logic calls on individuals to objectively
evaluate the consequences of the policy and weigh that against the
supposed benefits of denying marriage rights.
When one is forced to decide whether their desire to "preserve
traditional marriage" is worth dehumanizing a group of people, they
may reconsider their position. Essentially, based on this line of
reasoning, favoring equal marriage becomes a victory for all. No one
wants to live in a society where groups of people are made to feel
inferior. Equality is a powerful value, even in the United States.
I'm sure that gay rights groups in the United States do this as well,
but the fact that the court itself upheld this message of
inclusiveness is evidence that the message of the movement in Canada
was able to appeal to logic and empathy among those in political
power, rather than their fears and reactionary impulses.
FACT SHEET: THE MARRIAGE REFERENCE: WHAT THE SUPREME COURT SAID
?The mere recognition of the equality rights of one group cannot, in
itself, constitute a violation of the rights of another. The promotion
of Charter rights and values enriches our society as a whole and the
furtherance of those rights cannot undermine the very principles the
Charter was meant to foster.?
Supreme Court of Canada, Marriage Reference, December 9, 2004
The actual language of the Supreme Court itself is extremely important
to evaluate. Afterall, Canada and the United States were founded on
similar principles and is our closest cultural ally.
The above language clarifies that the decision does NOT threaten the
rights of heterosexual married couples. Recognizing the rights of one
group does not trade off with the rights of the other. Additional
protections against discrimination are entirely consistent with the
evolution and spirit of the Charter, and the U.S. Constitution as
This is an argument that should receive greater attention among equal
marriage rights movements in the United States. With the proposal of a
CONSTITUTIONAL amendment to ban "gay marriage" this argument becomes
of even greater importance.
In contrast to the Canadian decision to recognize equal marriage, an
active attempt to amend the constitution to deprive a group of even a
future prospect of enjoying a right is completely without precedent in
the Bill of Rights and successive amendments.
America is largely a culture shaped by ideological values, as we share
no overwhelming cultural heritage. Appealing to the progressive
tradition of the civil rights movement could be a very powerful tool
in garnering mainstream support for gay marriage rights. Framing the
fight as similar to that of suffrage for women and racial minorities,
rights for disabled Americans, etc. should be the centerpiece of any
civil rights movement, in my humble opinion. The Canadian movement
seems to have recognized the progressive history of civil rights
movements in Canada and was therefore able to treat the issue as a
further extension of those movements, rather than an entirely new
agenda all together, as some in the U.S. like to make it out to be.
"The fact of the matter is that the parallels between the African
American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and today's gay movement
are by no means exact, but are nonetheless striking. African-Americans
fought against legal discrimination, and for prohibitions against
discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Today, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people are doing the
same. The religious right seizes on the fact that there often is no
way to readily identify a gay person as such, thus making it more
difficult for bigots to discriminate against us, simply because they
have more difficulty identifying us. Nonetheless, when discovered,
some of the same hate, violence and discrimination experienced by
African Americans has also been experienced by gay people, as the
lynching of Wyoming's Matthew Shepard, and the hate murders of dozens
of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered before and after him has
FACT SHEET: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM...
Dec 10, 2004
"The government?s equal marriage legislation deals with civil
marriage. It does not affect religious marriage. The rules for
religious marriage have always been different than the rules for civil
marriage. This reflects the separation of church and state.
NO CLERGY OR RELIGION WILL BE REQUIRED TO MARRY SAME-SEX COUPLES
Religious officials have always been free to set their own rules for
religious marriage. Some have chosen not to perform inter-faith
marriages or to marry divorced persons. Their right to do so is clear,
and is protected by the Charter."
This strikes me as a primary barrier to the success of the movement in
the United States. Religious fears have fueled the opposition to equal
marriage rights. In reality, religious people have little to fear from
equal marriage rights.
The seperation of church and state is recognized both in Canada and
the United States. Therefore, it seems, the term marriage has no
religious meaning in its use as a legal term. George W. Bush's crusade
to protect "traditional marriage" is simply a coded scare tactic.
Read; if homosexuals are alllowed to marry, Christian marriage will
have no meaning. We must amend the Constitution to "protect" the
Judeo-Christian conception of marriage from the government.
Not only does this completely flip the logic, but it creates a false
sense that if the legal definition of marriage changes, the religious
one must change as well. As is evident above, this is simply false and
misleading. The government in Canada has no authority, as per the
seperation of church and state, to legislate the traditional practices
of a religious body. Is the Catholic Church being sued under Title VII
for gender discrimination as it won't "employ" female priests? Of
course not. Similarly, "traditional marriage" in a religious sense
will not be effected by this process. This seems to have been made
clear in Canada, but in the United States, confusion continues to
reign on this issue.
"Kevin Bourrassa and Joe Varnell?s website is an undisputed leader in
providing up to date and complete information on equal marriage in
Canada and beyond."
Free Vote on Same-sex Marriage - Clayton Chrusch?s site tracks how MPs
will vote on same-sex marriage when the issue comes before Canada's
Foundation for Equal Families
"Ontario group working to achieve equality and recognition for
same-sex relationships and associated family rights through legal
action and education."
Canada court approves gay marriage
December 9, 2004
"As early as the mid-eighties, a group of gay activists, headed by
Henk Krol - currently the editor-in-chief of the Gay Krant - asked the
government to allow same sex couples to marry. Parliament decided in
1995 to create a special commission, which was to investigate the
possibility of same-sex marriages. At that moment the Christian
Democrats for the first time since the introduction of full democracy
weren't part of the ruling coalition. The special commission finished
its work in 1997 and concluded that civil marriage should be opened
up. After the elections of 1998, the government promised to tackle the
issue. In September 2000 the final legislation drafted was debated in
The marriage bill obtained a majority of 109 against 33 votes in the
Lower House of Parliament. The Upper House approved the bill on
December 19, 2000. Only the Christian parties, which held 26 of the 75
seats at that time, voted against the bill. Though the major party in
the present (2004) ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats haven't
shown the slightest inclination toward an attempt to revert the law."
<<The following quotation is taken from a press release issued by the
Dutch Ministry of Justice describing equal treatment as the main
reason it decided to allow same sex marriage. MARRIAGE FOR ALL agrees
wholeheartedly with the Dutch government's reasoning in this matter.
"The registered partnership was introduced in 1998. Since then,
same-sex couples can already regulate their relationship legally in a
way that is in most respects equivalent to a marriage. And yet it was
decided to open the institute of marriage to two women or two men.
The basic tenet of equal treatment was decisive in this. For many
people, marriage simply holds special value and carries a certain
symbolism. People may wish to confirm a relationship in precisely
this manner. And there is no reason to exclude same-sex couples from
How Holand Did It
<<The court decided against same-sex marriage, saying it was not a
violation of human rights to deny homosexuals access.
Waaldijk described his country's mainstream media as being fairly
negative towards same-sex marriage at the time. Gay media, however,
were active in mobilizing members of parliament.
"Within a week, four of the five main parties were asking for
something to be done," Waaldijk recalled.>>
<<"Then the left-wing gay movement, the more radical gay movement,
turned around and said, of course there should be full equality! There
was a real idological shift in the old gay movement. It caused many
more people to think about it - what marriage really is."
Consensus for same-sex marriage
The government finally decided to answer that question when they
formed a committee to explore the the impacts of Netherlands becoming
the first country in the world to offer gay marriage.>>
It is interesting that the pattern usually follows that civil unions
are the first stage and once they garner public support, full equal
marriage later follows. Perhaps a similar strategy should be taken by
movements in the U.S. It is obvious, that the recognition of civil
unions empirically does not exclude future inclusion in full marrital
rights. Although, I do recognize that full rights should be the goal,
the debate or civil unions vs. marriage could divide the movement and
lessen its strength and solidarity. It seems that based on the recent
historical examples, civil unions should be viewed as a step and not a
destination. However, there is always the risk that movements could be
co-opted by compromised concessions.
<<Opposition from religious groups was of little consequence in the Netherlands.
"It's a very secular society. There was strong opposition from some
really traditional protestant churches and from the Bishops, but the
rest of the Catholic church didn't say much.">>
This is obviously a major distinction between the Netherlands and the
United States. Religious groups obviously have much greater political
power in the U.S. This is why it is increasingly important that the
debate be framed as a secular civil rights issue and that religious
fears be calmed.
Appealing to the sense of religious diversity is important. It is not
for the United States to establish religious guidelines for marriage.
Also, recognizing that religions are strong enough to handle
disagreements with government decisions is important. Divorce is a
particularly strong example, and relates directly to marriage.
In addition, it should be noted that religious theology evolves. The
Christian Bible, in places, advocates "the execution of engaged women
who are not virgins and outlaws marriages between those of different
faiths." These are positions that we, as a society, have rejected. But
above all, religious people should be assured that the decision has no
barring on the tenents of their faith.
"On January 30, 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world
to legally recognize same-sex marriage. Like in The Netherlands (the
first country) this was achieved when the Christian Democrats were
exceptionally not in power. However, the law still does not permit
adoption by same-sex partners; and as birth within a same-sex marriage
doesn't imply affiliation, the same-sex spouse of the biological
parent has no way to become the legal parent.
Originally, Belgium allowed the marriages of foreign same-sex couples
only if their country of origin also allowed these unions. New
legislation enacted in October of 2004, however, now permits any
couples to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived
in the country for a minimum of three months. (1)
According to the Belgian "Staatsblad" , approximately 300 gay couples
got married between june 2003 and april 2004.(245 in 2003 and 55 in
2004). This was 1.2 % of the total number of marriages in Belgium
during that period. Two out of three gay marriages were performed by
male couples, one out of three was a lesbian couple."
Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network
Thursday, January 30, 2003
"Like other European nations, Belgium had already granted limited
legal protections to same-sex unions, including tax and property
rights. The new law's expansion of those rights was celebrated as a
"breakthrough" by many. "
Using the empirical success in other countries to calm fears in the U.S.:
<<A look at the handful of countries that have granted equal marriage
rights, such as the Netherlands and Canada, shows that the sky hardly
has fallen in. On the contrary, the United States dramatically leads
those countries in virtually every indicator of family dysfunction,
from domestic violence to teenage pregnancy. Rather than scapegoating
Lesbians and Gays, addressing the real reasons for many of the
stresses on U.S. families--lack of health care provision for all,
difficult to obtain childcare, extreme poverty for some, etc.-should
be the concern of those who prattle on about "protecting the family."
I hope this helps. Best of luck! Please don't hesitate to request
clarification of my response if necessary.
Google Search Terms Used:
"gay marriage" or "equal marriage" or "same sex marriage"
Clarification of Answer by
24 Jan 2005 17:10 PST
I apologize for the delay in clarifying this response.
It seems that in Canada most of the progress came through legal
pressure in the form of organized legal challenges. I have outlined
some information on that process below.
As for the Netherlands, there is an interesting document out there
that seems to suit your needs perfectly. It is a 60 point manual,
distributed by major groups in the movement, that is intended to be
used by organizations in other nations as a model to acheive equal
marriage in their respective countries.
I have also included information on steps that are being taken in the
U.S. and internationally.
I hope this helps.
I will keep looking for some additional information and update this
response when I come across any important information.
Thanks again for the question. Good luck in your pursuits.
Strategies from Canada:
Same-Sex Spouses in Canada
(Here is a good article that deals with the strategies employed in
Canada and elsewhere)
<<How did Canada's gay activists bring this about? In part, by
avoiding the veil-trailing, hymen-breaking, hysteria-inducing M-word.
"We argued throughout the case that this had nothing to do with
marriage," says Martha McCarthy, M's Toronto-based counsel. That meant
the Canadian court could stay away from a word that turns out to be
electrically charged, so dense with religious and historical symbolism
that linking it with same-sex couples makes otherwise fair-minded
people blanch. In fact, while the Canadian federal government agreed
to amend its laws to count same-sex partners as common-law "spouses,"
it also voted to ban same-sex partners from "marriage"--despite a June
1999 Globe and Mail survey, which found that 53 percent of Canadians
are willing to say "I do" to same-sex marriage.
That's what's happening in most of the West: Courts and legislatures
are granting piecemeal or de facto or second-tier recognition--and
then inching forward toward marriage. After a few years with a
second-tier status, the Netherlands may soon be the world's first
nation to offer same-sex couples full marriage--even use of the
wedding-cake word. The Scandinavian countries have a special status
for same-sex couples called "registered partnership," which includes
almost every marriage responsibility and benefit, and which most
citizens call "gay marriage.">>
Legal developments for equal marriage in Canada
Ontario Same-Sex Marriage Decision
(Outlines the impact of the Ontario decision, how it came to be and
what efforts can be taken to further the cause)
Equal marriage for same-sex couples
(Here is an example of a court case, spearheaded by an equal marriage
group, that led to some success)
"This web site was established in 2001, as MCC Toronto (with a legal
team led by Douglas Elliott) went to Ontario court, in a case joined
with couples who were seeking access to civil marriage, to obtain a
court order forcing the government to recognize our marriage.
Our first victory came on July 12, 2002, and the second, definitive,
victory arrived on June 10, 2003 when the Court of Appeal for Ontario
ordered the registration of our marriage, and opened marriage for all
couples, effective that day. We are grateful that the Canadian
Government, and the Ontario Government agreed to accept the June 10,
2003 decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Our marriage was
registered by Ontario the next day."
The liberation of marriage
(This page discusses some ways that the progress in Canada may effect the U.S.)
<<The example set by Ontario, and now by our federal government, is a
contribution to the advancement of human rights across Canada, and
around the world, most notably in the United States.
"Like it or not, Canada's decision sets the stage for a new wave of
legal challenges here," said an editorial in the Oregonian (June 21).
A headline in the Chicago Tribune (June 22) read, "U.S. lags on gay
"Canada's recognition of equality for gays and lesbians strengthens
the bonds of families everywhere," wrote Eduardo Hernandez in a letter
to the editor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin (June 20, 2003). "Even more, it
inspires a new generation of people to stand up for civil rights and
In the same paper an editorial said, "The most important effect the
Canadian policy could have on the United States will be to demonstrate
that same-sex marriages will not be disruptive to the institution of
An early test for same-sex 'marriage'
(The Canadian decisions have forced the issue on some states in the
U.S., which now must decide whether to recognize Canadian same-sex
Catholic New Times: Same-sex marriage: a dissenting Catholic opinion
(This article notes flaws in the religious arguments against gay
marriage, from a religious person's perspective and also shows some of
the ways that the government dealt with the anti-gay marriage urgings
of the Catholic bishops in Canada)
"Dutch gay rights organisations have published manual on how to revoke
the legal ban on same-sex marriage in your country." There is a 60
step manual that supposedly outlines how to model equal marriage
campaigns on the Netherlands movement.
<<?The 60-page step-by-step booklet, published in Dutch and English,
gives a historic overview of the 16-year lobbying process that
eventually led the Dutch government to allow gays and lesbians to tie
the knot as of April 1, 2001.
It calls on gays all over the world to challenge discriminatory laws
and fight for equal rights through the courts.
In a sense it is a how-to manual for gays abroad campaigning for the
right to same-sex unions says Henk Krol, editor in chief of the
Gaykrant gay weekly, who created the booklet together with gay rights
organisation COC Netherlands [the civil rights group that organized
the successful lobby.]...
The manual is [also] intended to help authorities abroad see how they
can change legislation, [Amsterdam mayor Job] Cohen added.
The booklet will be sent to foreign gay organisations and will be
available online through the Gaykrant and COC websites.>>
Dutch gay organisations publish marriage manual to counter vatican campaign
Dutch manual on marriage set to ease other countries' woes
The Dutch say gay marriage is really all about equality
Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine
Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia and the Netherlands
Steps in the United States:
Massachusetts Supreme Court took bold step on same-sex marriage, but
ruling was outcome of 'contemporary legal developments'
(This article discusses the deveopments in the U.S. and compares them
to those in Canada and elsewhere, from a legal context).
Scandal's Shame, Massachusetts' Pride
Same-Sex Marriage: The Fight for Equality Gains Momentum
The Descent of Marriage?
"In fact, there's nothing "arbitrary," antidemocratic or particularly
"activist" about the Massachusetts ruling. It's soundly based on the
equality provision of the state constitution. It follows in the long
tradition of American federalism that allows states to interpret their
own constitutions in ways that protect rights beyond those enumerated
by the US Constitution. And it cites a wealth of legal precedent that
preserves individual privacy and extends civil rights to previously
excluded minorities. Cases like Goodridge are exactly why the judicial
The Nation 2/04
(Extensive article on the state of same-sex marriage in the U.S. political climate)
Gay Rights Activists Reassess Strategies
Same-Sex "Marriage": Should America Allow "Gay Rights" Activists to
Cross The Last Cultural Frontier?
(This article outlines how anti-gay rights groups view the quest for
Debunking the morality myth surrounding same-sex marriage bans
Same-Sex Marriage As Civil Disobedience
Maryland: Same-Sex Marriage
Political battles over gay marriage still spreading
The Global View Of Gay Marriage
Marriage Laws around the world
"Countries that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Belgium
(2003) and the Netherlands (since 2001); the Canadian provinces of
Ontario and British Columbia since 2003, and Quebec, the Yukon,
Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan since 2004.
Countries that offer a legal status, sometimes known as registered
partnership, that confers most or all spousal rights to same-sex
couples: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden.
Countries that offer a legal status, sometimes known as unregistered
cohabitation, that confers certain spousal rights to same-sex couples
(and, in some of these countries, unmarried opposite-sex couples):
Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand,
Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland."