What the U.S. Could Learn from LGBT Laws in These 15 Countries

June 20th 2015

Reina Gattuso

With an upcoming Supreme Court decision that many expect to determine the legal status of same-sex marriage nationwide, the U.S. might soon join the ranks of the 20 countries that recognize LGBT people’s right to marry.

Yet in other LGBT rights arenas, America continues to lag behind. ATTN: compiled a list of countries the U.S. could learn from, including anti-discrimination laws to the legal recognition of transgender people’s identity, these countries are making strides to ensure that all citizens have basic human rights.

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Posted by ATTN: on Sunday, June 14, 2015


Mexico legalized same-sex unions in June when its Supreme Court quietly published an opinion known as a jurisprudential thesis. The court ruled that defining marriage as a union between only a man and woman is in violation of Mexico's constitution because it's discriminatory.

While the court did not explicitly say that same-sex unions were legal, the decision is seen as having that effect. This month's ruling follows a number of court decisions in the past year that pointed in the same direction.

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Posted by ATTN: on Saturday, May 23, 2015


Ireland is the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. In May, 62 percent of the voters approved the amendment in a referendum in a huge move for gay rights in Europe and throughout the world.


In 2012, Argentina became the first country to allow transgender people to change their legal gender with a formal request - rather than requiring court, physician, or psychiatric approval. Argentina has also recognized same-sex marriage - including adoption rights - since 2010. Argentina’s vibrant LGBT rights movement has caused some to label it “the world’s most transgender-friendly country.”


Croatians who seek to change their legal gender are not required to undergo surgery or other medical procedures, including forced sterilization, which is mandated in several other European countries. They can be of any age, though they still must present a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder. Croatia also forbids employment discrimination based on both sexual orientation and has legislated against hate crimes towards transgender people.


In 2014, Denmark became the second country to allow citizens to change their legal gender by formal request - without medical intervention, court order, or psychological diagnosis. Denmark also permits same-sex marriage and adoption rights.


Germany became the first European country to allow a third-gender option on government documents after a 2013 law allowed parents to list their child’s gender as “x” on birth certificates. The decision largely affects intersex people, allowing them to determine their gender later in life and cutting down on genital surgeries for intersex babies. Adults can retain the “x” identification in their passports. Germany has also legislated against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


Malta, which has legislated anti-discrimination and hate crime protection based on both gender identity and sexual orientation, has some of the most far-reaching transgender rights laws in the world. Transgender people in Malta can elect to change their legal gender without any form of medical or psychological intervention, and are legislatively protected against workplace discrimination and hate crimes. Same-sex couples cannot marry - though their marriages are recognized - but they do have the right to adopt.


In 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage; it also protects same-sex couples’ adoption rights. The Netherlands does not require any medical procedures for transgender people looking to change their legal gender, though it does require a Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis. Some measures are in place to prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.


The UK legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and protects the adoption rights of same-sex couples. It also forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


The U.S.’ neighbor to the north legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 and has legislated protections against orientation-based discrimination in the workplace.

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal

While all four of these South Asian countries continue to have a bad record on LGBT rights in most respects - in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, consensual same-sex intercourse remains illegal. These countries are also some of the only countries in the world to recognize third-gender identification in official government documents. This option allows the hijra population - a traditional third gender category - to identify according to their lived gender experience on official documents. While third-gender identification is a step forward, hijra populations are unprotected by anti-discrimination legislation and continue to face discrimination.


Unique among Western hemisphere countries except for Canada and Argentina, Uruguay legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. Same-sex couples can also adopt children, and are protected from sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace.

New Zealand

New Zealand stands out as one of the countries that has done the most to legislate equality for LGBT people. In 2012, New Zealand took a step forward for gender non-binary and intersex rights by legislating a third-gender option for government documents - listed as an “x.” The next year, New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples can legally adopt children. And the country has also made legislative strides to protect New Zealanders from hate crimes and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.


Like India and New Zealand before it, in 2014 Australia’s High Court mandated a legal third-gender option in official government documents countrywide. The court's decision came after Norrie, an Australian who identifies as neither male nor female, advocated for Norrie’s right to list their gender as “non-specific” in official government documents. The country has also implemented laws protecting Australians against orientation-based workplace discrimination.

South Africa

South Africa’s extensive legal protections for LGBT populations reflects both the country’s rich history of social justice struggle and the increasing strength of the LGBT movement in the African continent, which remains home to some of the most egregious LGBT rights violations. LGBT South Africans are legally protected against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same-sex couples, who can adopt children, were granted same-sex marriage rights in 2006.

For more complete rankings, check out this full report on orientation-based protections, country by country; full reports on transgender rights and overall LGBT rights in Europe; and a list of all the countries that have legalized gay marriage.