The 10 biggest surprises in the fight for marriage equality in 2022

Between tiny countries in Europe, long-awaited changes in Mexico and events in our own backyard, it’s been a big year when it comes to the push for same-sex marriage 

Although there were some notable setbacks for LGBTQ2S+ rights around the world, 2022 actually turned out to be a banner year in the fight for the right to same-sex marriage, with significant progress to be celebrated in all corners of the world. Some of these developments have been years in the making, while others turned out to be genuine surprises. Read on to see how far we’ve come in 2022 and where we may see even bigger victories in 2023.

1. SCOTUS threatens same-sex marriage

The United States Supreme Court’s bombshell Dobbs decision in June not only took away the right of Americans to abortion, it also contained an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas calling into question a whole host of other privacy and due-process rights long recognized by the courts, including the right to consensual sodomy and the right to same-sex marriage. Though Thomas’s opinion was not signed by any other judge, it has suitably spooked LGBTQ2S+ Americans.

Luckily, it also spurred some legislators into action on LGBTQ2S+ rights. The U.S. Congress was finally able to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a law that repeals the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and requires all U.S. states and territories to recognize legal same-sex marriages (even if it doesn’t compel them to perform them). The law is also notable for also extending marriage recognition for the first time to American Samoa, a small U.S. territory in the South Pacific that has thus far resisted applying the right to same-sex marriage in its local law. 

Additionally, state-level legislators are pushing for greater LGBTQ2S+ legal protections in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Legislators in California, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alaska have announced plans to attempt to repeal currently defunct statutes and constitutional provisions that ban same-sex marriage. (Legislators in Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan will also be pushing to repeal archaic laws that ban gay sex.) They’re being buoyed by election victories that gave Democrats control of legislatures in Alaska, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. 

2. Mexico completes marriage equality in the country

Mexico’s long ride to full marriage equality finally came to a head in 2022—13 years after the capital Mexico City became the first place in the country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009. Under Mexico’s federal structure, each state had to legalize same-sex marriage on its own, even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. The states have been slowly coming around, and in 2022, the last seven holdouts—Yucatán, Veracruz, Durango, the state of Mexico, Tabasco, Guerrero and Tamaulipas—all amended their civil codes to make marriage gender-neutral.


And that wasn’t all. The federal senate passed a bill to ban conversion therapy, while the states of Jalisco, Baja California, Hidalgo and Puebla all passed their own local bans. Also, the states of Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur fully legalized same-sex couple adoption, while Sinaloa passed a gender identity law. 

3. Cuba affirms equal marriage by referendum

Cuban LGBTQ+ activists celebrated a victory in their decade-long fight for equal marriage this fall as the Cuban people voted in a national referendum to pass a new Family Code that included equal marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. The referendum passed with just over two-thirds support.

Long supported by Mariela Castro, the daughter of former president Raúl Castro, Cuban LGBTQ+ activists had been calling for equal marriage and had hoped it would be incorporated in a series of political and legal reforms that were promoted by President Miguel Díaz-Canel over the past several years. Initially disappointed that equal marriage was dropped from a proposed 2019 constitutional reform, and then that the new family code was ultimately the only one of the major law reform proposals sent to a public vote, activists can celebrate the results.

4. Small European states make a big push for equality

Slovenia may not be quite a microstate, but the former Yugoslav nation of 2 million landed a victory for equality in July, when its Constitutional Court ruled that laws barring same-sex couples from marriage and adoption were unconstitutional. That reversed the course of a 2015 decision, which allowed a referendum to go forward undoing an equal marriage law that the parliament had passed that year. In that referendum, voters rejected same-sex marriage 63 percent to 36 percent. This time, the government welcomed the court’s decision and quickly codified it into law. The decision made Slovenia the first Slavic and first post-communist country to legalize same-sex marriage. 

The tiny principality of Andorra, home to 77,000 people sandwiched between France and Spain, passed an update to its Family Law that both allowed trans people to self-identify their gender, and gave same-sex couples the right to marry. Or did they? A semantic debate over whether the bill actually created equal marriage held it up for more than a year before it finally passed. The issue at hand is that the bill generally calls religious marriage “matrimoni,” but it calls same-sex marriages “casamentes,” which it defines as a type of “matrimoni.” Confusingly, both terms translate from Catalan to English as “marriage.” Although the distinction persisted in the final bill, the political opposition has filed a case with the Constitutional Court seeking to eliminate it.

Meanwhile, in the even tinier Alpine nation of Liechtenstein, lawmakers voted 23-2 on a motion calling on the government to introduce same-sex marriage. Previously, the prince of Liechtenstein (who can veto legislation) had said his only objection to same-sex marriage would be that it would open the door to adoption—but a Constitutional Court ruling earlier this year has already made adoption by same-sex couples legal, so the point is now moot. If the government goes along with Parliament’s request, expect a bill to come forward sometime in the spring.

5. U.K. court strikes down same-sex marriage in Bermuda and Cayman

Not all of the surprises this year were good ones. In March, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled against same-sex marriage in separate cases from Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, two of the U.K.’s remaining overseas territories. In Bermuda’s case, equal marriage had already been the law of the land for nearly four years before the decision, marking a major reversal of rights. Both territories now only offer civil unions to their queer citizens.

Undeterred, activists are continuing to push for equal marriage rights in all British territories. A case seeking same-sex marriage in the British Virgin Islands is currently being heard at the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, and one of the U.K.’s unelected lords has introduced a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in all remaining U.K. territories, including Anguilla, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos. 

6. Singapore decriminalizes sodomy, but bans same-sex marriage 

Singapore delivered a mixed bag of progress for its queer citizens. In February, its Court of Appeal ruled that because the government had a stated policy of not enforcing its colonial-era law banning gay sex, no one could be prosecuted under it. However, the court also ruled that the government had the right to rescind that policy at will. It was a baby step from a court that had three times in the previous decade ruled against petitions seeking to have the law struck.

As domestic and international pressure mounted, the government finally reversed its own position on the sodomy law in August, and announced that it would repeal it, with a caveat: the government would also amend the constitution to clarify there’s no right to same-sex marriage. The government kept its word and passed both initiatives in November. While it seems like one step forward and another back, there’s actually much to celebrate here. The government didn’t ban same-sex marriage in the constitution; it merely removed the power of the courts to impose it—and the courts didn’t seem very amenable to pushing queer rights anyway. If marriage is the next goal, queer Singaporeans will simply have to convince a majority of legislators to pass it into law. 

Singapore wasn’t the only country to decriminalize gay sex in 2022. Over the summer, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court issued separate rulings decriminalizing sodomy in Antigua and Barbuda and in St. Kitts and Nevis. The decisions came as queer activists in the region launched coordinated challenges against sodomy laws in eight countries across the region, all former British colonies like Singapore. At least five more decisions in sodomy cases from the Caribbean are expected in 2023.

7. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy supports equal marriage

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been the most consequential geopolitical development of 2022, but it’s also had a noticeable effect on LGBTQ+ rights in the region. LGBTQ+ soldiers are serving openly in the Ukrainian armed forces, proudly wearing unicorn badges representing their identity. The bravery of these soldiers has earned queer Ukrainians a new respect among their compatriots. 

In June, an official petition was launched calling for the introduction of marriage equality in Ukraine, specifically to address the fact that without official relationship recognition, the partners of queer soldiers who are killed in action defending their homeland may never be notified and could lose access to their joint property. Surprisingly, as the petition gained traction, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced his support—but acknowledged that under the state of war, it was impossible to amend the constitution to allow it. As an interim measure, he directed his government to draft a civil partnership law, though it has yet to be introduced.

The war’s impact on LGBTQ+ rights could very well extend beyond Ukraine. Western-aligned states have drawn closer together, strengthening institutions like the European Union, which have traditionally advocated for queer rights in member states. And Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have all formally applied to become members, which will require all three to improve their human rights records. On the other hand, Russia itself has cracked down harder on queer and trans people within its borders and in the territories it has illegally annexed from Ukraine.

8. Japan’s courts can’t decide on same-sex marriage

Lawsuits seeking equal access to marriage for same-sex marriage have been working their way through several district courts since 13 couples made coordinated filings on Valentine’s Day 2019. Last year, the district court in Sapporo ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, although it left it up to the government to remedy the situation. This year, district courts in Osaka and Tokyo ruled the ban was constitutional, though the Tokyo court also ruled that the lack of an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional discrimination. Additional cases are still to be decided in two other regional courts.

In the meantime, Japanese cities and prefectures continued to expand the use of same-sex partnership certificates, documents of limited legal recognition that nonetheless give partners access to certain government services. More than half of Japan now lives in a jurisdiction that issues partnership certificates. Still, the national government remains deeply conservative and has thus far refused to address LGBTQ+ rights generally.

9. India’s Supreme Court takes on equal marriage case

In late November, India’s Supreme Court announced it was taking on several cases seeking to legalize same-sex marriage under the country’s secular Special Marriage Act. The court gave the government four weeks to respond to the petition, which is currently in process at press time.

Queer and trans activists have been buoyed by a series of recent judgments from the court, beginning in 2016, when the court found that the constitution includes a right to privacy. Even in that decision, justices predicted that the consequences of that finding would lead to the decriminalization of sodomy (which the court did in 2018) and eventually same-sex marriage. What’s more, the recently appointed chief justice of the court has been known to support queer rights.

If the court does legalize same-sex marriage next year, India would become by far the largest country by population to do so. It would also mark the shortest amount of time between a country decriminalizing sodomy and legalizing same-sex marriage—the previous record-holder was South Africa, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, eight years after it decriminalized sodomy.

10. Thai lawmakers defy their military government and push for equal marriage

Thailand has long had a reputation for tolerance of queer people, but its government—currently a quasi-junta ruled by the military with the veneer of an elected parliament—has long resisted calls for full equal marriage. This year, the government proposed a Civil Partnerships Bill that would give same-sex couples access to certain limited rights, but the rest of Parliament was not content with half measures. Although it ultimately advanced the partnership bill, it also advanced two other bills proposed by the opposition that would legalize full equal marriage. All of the bills are currently in the committee stage, and it’s unclear if they will pass before Parliament is dissolved ahead of May elections. But the increasingly defiant Parliament has already managed to push through other progressive reforms this year, and this is the farthest an equal marriage bill has progressed in any southeast Asian country.

Rob Salerno is a playwright and journalist whose writing has appeared in such publications as Vice, Advocate, NOW and OutTraveler.

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