As of 2023, a total of thirty-four countries have legalized same-sex marriage, more than half belonging to the western hemisphere (CFR.org Editors). The great majority of countries, however, continue to ban the civil unions, consistent with the lack of globally enforced LGBTQ+ rights. The majority of European Union (EU) laws do not extend to the acknowledgement of marital or family status to same-sex couples, despite sexual orientation now being recognized as a ground of discrimination by EU law (“Briefing: The Rights”). Many international organizations - the United Nations (UN) included - have made efforts in support of this fundamental human right.
For starters, most of the thirty articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) employ gender-neutral vocabulary, resorting to “All”, “Everyone” or “No one.” An exception to this is within Article 16 where it states “men and women” have a right to marriage, which some perceive as limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. However, the UDHR drafters have since cleared this up, clarifying that the wording was based on emphasizing women’s equal rights (“Universal Declaration”). The UN has urged States to recognize same-sex couples’ right to marriage, also calling for equal protection and benefits to heterosexual couples/partners.
Most countries grant benefits to married couples that are denied to unmarried couples – including same-sex unions – such as rights to community property, tenancy, inheritance, tax benefits, immigration, hospital visitation and the right to deny testifying against one’s spouse (Burleson). Denying these benefits to “married” couples of the same sex would technically classify as a discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation which, as previously stated, is recognized by the UN as an infringement of basic human rights.
Article 16 of the UDHR also delves into same-sex union’s right to adoption, establishing that every adult has “the right to found a family.” Nevertheless, adoption rights are considerably stricter, even in countries which have legalized same-sex marriage, as only 14 Member States legally permit it. While some countries recognize same-sex second-parent adoption (second parent adopts a child without “first-parent” losing any rights), they don’t recognize the relationship of the child’s parents (Burleson). This highlights the disordered nature of LGBTQ+ human rights.
Along with the benefits of legalizing these rights on same-sex couples, statistics have shown that children would benefit substantially if more governments legalized LGBTQ+ marriage and adoption (Burleson). There are more than 147 million children in need of a loving and supportive home today. Moreover, there is zero correlation between the psychological, emotional or social development of children and whether they are raised by same-sex or heterosexual couples (“Facts and Stats”). Legal recognition would help reduce the number of children in foster care significantly and provide them with a better future, given legal guidelines ensure equal protections as those in heterosexual families.
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council appointed an independent expert to trace the origins of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, in order to discuss the adequate measures for protection with governments (“LGBTQI+ Free”). This helps propel the 16th sustainable goal of the UN to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” (“Goal 16”). In summary, the global conversation on same-sex couples' rights underscore a commitment to equality and the broader goal of fostering inclusive societies and institutions worldwide.
"Briefing: The Rights of LGBTI People in the European Union." European Parliament, May 2016, www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/582031/EPRS_BRI(2016)582031_EN.pdf. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
Burleson, Elizabeth. "International Human Rights Law, Co-parent Adoption, and the Recognition of Gay and Lesbian Families." International Human Rights Law, Pace Law Faculty Publications, 2009, core.ac.uk/download/pdf/46714073.pdf. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
CFR.org Editors. "Marriage Equality: Global Comparison." Council on Foreign Relations, 22 Dec. 2022, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/marriage-equality-global-comparisons. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
"Common Family Law Issues for Same-Sex Couples." McKinley Irvin, 23 Oct. 2017,
common-family-law-issues-for-same-sex-couples/. Accessed 8 Nov. 2023.
"Facts and Stats." Home for Every Child, www.homeforeverychild.org/facts-and-stats. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
"Goal 16." United Nations, World Health Organisation, sdgs.un.org/goals/goal16. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
HRC Foundation. "Adoption Options Overview." Human Rights Campaign, www.hrc.org/
resources/adoption-options-overview. Accessed 5 Nov. 2023.
"LGBTQI+ Free and Equal NOT Criminalized." United Nations, World Health Organization, www.un.org/en/fight-racism/vulnerable-groups/lgbtqi-plus. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.
"Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: 30 Articles on 30 Articles - Article 16." United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Comissioner, World Health Organization, 25 Nov. 2018, www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2018/11/universal-declaration-human-rights-70-30-articles-30-articles-article-16. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.