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Belgium Offers Legal Marriage
by Demian
© October 2, 2009, Demian

On January 30, 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples.

While many countries offer some kind of domestic partnership status — and many mistakenly refer to it as marriage — none have the full equality in legal, economic and social stature as is available in legal marriage.


The original bill had been already approved by the Senate, and prevailed in the House of Representatives, with a 91-22 vote (nine abstentions). The opposition Christian democrat CdH and the extreme right Vlaams Blok voted against it.

The law, years in the making, had to overcome criticism of the country’s top administrative court, which ruled that the concept of marriage legally represented “union between a man and woman.” The government parties decided the ignore the legal advice and proceeded with the bill nevertheless.

The original Belgium marriage license’s was severely flawed in that it did not allow adoption of children as a couple.

Some couples did not want to marry because it prevented them from adopting children. Birth within a same-sex marriage did not imply affiliation, as the same-sex spouse of the biological parent had no way to become the legal parent. A proposal to permit adoption was approved by the Chamber of Representatives of the parliament on December 1, 2005. In April 2006, it passed and enabled legal co-parenting by same-sex couples.

While the Belgium age of consent is 16, all legal marriages require the parties to both be 18 or older.

Originally, the license only allowed marriage between Belgians, or between Belgians and people from countries where a marriage of same-sex couples was also allowed. An October 1, 2004 law change made it possible for any foreign same-sex couple to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived there for three months.

Requirements for Marriage

All documentation needs to be taken to the marriage office in the commune where at least one partner lives. For many, this office will be part of the Service de l’Etat Civil/ de Burgerlijke Stant, and may be located in the municipal buildings of the Town Hall (Maison Communale/Stadhuis).

Required original or certified copies (not photocopies):

  • Birth certificates.
  • Certificate of residence, showing full name, place and date of birth, last legal residence, nationality and marital status for both parties. Anyone who is not a Belgian resident must obtain their certificate from the authorities in their last place of residence. If this is not possible (US authorities do not issue such documents, for example) then ask the local Belgian authorities what is accepted.
  • Divorce papers, if a partner had been previously married.
Certificates and certified copies can often be obtained via the relevant embassy in Belgium for a fee. All official documents issued in a country other than Belgium need to be authenticated and if they are written in a language other than Dutch, French or German, must be accompanied by a translation from an approved translator. Embassies in Belgium can provide further details.

The marriage takes place in the municipality where at least one of the parties were resident at the time that the marriage was announced.

Belgian law only recognizes the validity of a civil ceremony and the only authority with the power to celebrate a legal marriage is the office of the state via the local municipality (Ambtenaar van de Burgerlijke Stant/ Officier de l’Etat Civil).

Civil marriages take place at the Town Hall. At certain times, and on certain days, no charge is made for this service. On completion of the civil ceremony, the marriage is recorded in the register of civil status at the Town Hall and the newly-weds are issued with a marriage booklet. This acts as the legal proof of their status as a same-sex married couple.

Immigration to Belgium

To acquire Belgian nationality, you must be living with your Belgian spouse at the time of the application. Depending on your residence rights in the country, you must also have been living together for a certain time.

Each of the partners must satisfy one of the following conditions:

  • Live together for at least 3 years in Belgium. This condition applies if, at the time of the application, the foreigner does not have an authorization to stay in the country for more than three months or to settle here.
  • Live together for at least 6 months in Belgium. This condition applies if, at the time of the application, the foreigner has authorization to remain for more than 3 months in Belgium or to settle here.
The spouse who wishes to acquire Belgian nationality must make a declaration before the municipal Registrar for births, marriages and deaths.

If your main place of residence is abroad, you must make a declaration at the Belgian embassy or consulate. These services will then contact the public prosecutor of the Court of First Instance of Brussels for opinion.

Since Marriage Legalization

As of November 22, 2004, more than 300 same-sex legal marriages had taken place in Belgium.

By July 2005, 2,442 same-sex couples had married in Belgium, according to the Interior Ministry. A total of 3 percent of all Belgium marriages are same-sex, Flemish broadcaster VRT reported.

This high rate of marriage may result from the fact that many same-sex couples had been living together for years, and it was only relatively recently possible for them to marry.

No Implications for the U.S.

Should a Belgium same-sex married couple come to the U.S., it seems likely that the U.S. would refuse to recognize the marriage because the U.S. government and a majority of U.S. states have made laws denying recognition to any legal marriage licenses held by same-sex couples.

The U.S. has no international obligations to recognize marriages from other nations, but generally has done so, unless they violate established public policy.


Alliŕge - Association de Gays et de Lesbiennes

Getting married - Belgium’s Web Site

Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage

Netherlands (2001)
Belgium (2003)
Canada (2005)
Spain (2005)
South Africa (2005)
Norway (2009)
Sweden (2009)
Iceland (2010)
Argentina (2010)
Portugal (2010)
Denmark (2012)
France (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
Brazil (2013)
Uruguay (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
United Kingdom
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
Luxembourg (2014)
Finland (2014)
Ireland (2015)
United States (2015)
Colombia (2016)
Germany (2017)
Taiwan (2017)
Malta (2017)
Australia (2017)
US States & Territories
U.S. Supreme Court, June 26, 2015 Ruling: All U.S. States must allow same-sex couples legal marriage.

Massachusetts (2004)
California (2008)
Connecticut (2008)
Iowa (2009)
Vermont (2009)
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Maine (2012)
Washington (2012)
Maryland (2013)
Rhode Island (2013)
Delaware (2013)
Minnesota (2013)
Illinois (2013)
Utah (2013)
New Jersey (2013)

Hawaii (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Oregon (2014)
Wisconsin (2014) Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Pennsylvania (2014)
Indiana (2014)
Nevada (2014)
Virginia (2014)
Oklahoma (2014)
Idaho (2014)
West Virginia (2014)
Alaska (2014)
Arizona (2014)
Wyoming (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Florida (2014)
Colorado (2014)
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
Montana (2014)
Alabama (2015)
Native American Tribes

Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan (2014)
Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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