On April 1, 2001, The Netherlands became the first country in the world to offer full, legal marriage to same-sex couples.
At the time, many countries offered various forms of domestic partnership status — and many mistakenly refer to it as “marriage” or even more inaccurately as “gay marriage.” The Netherlands was the only country with true legal marriage available for same-sex couples.
There were still some legal difference between opposite-sex and same-sex couples in that overseas adoptions were unavailable, because of potential objections from countries that hate gay people and don’t allow same-sex couples to marry. However, local adoptions were allowed.
Nonresident same-sex couples cannot marry in the Netherlands or register adopted children here.
The Netherlands began registering legal partnerships for same-sex couples in 1998.
[See Registered Partnership: The Scandinavian Approach]
The Netherlands Senate voted to extend full, legal marriage for same-sex couples on December 19, 2000. The lower house had voted their approval on September 12, 2000.
The law also allowed those who have already signed up as domestic partners to convert them to full, legal marriage status.
Previous to April 2001, if a woman gave birth and was married to a woman, her partner would not automatically become the other legal parent. Even though her wife has the legal duty to care for the child, the child can only be hers if she applied for a step parent adoption.
Bills regarding legal marriage and adoption by same-sex couples have taken the words “mother and father” and “man and woman” and amended them to read “partners,” which wipes out the last references distinguishing same-sex from opposite-sex couples. The lower house passed the bills on September 12 by a vote of 109-33. On December 20, 2000, an overwhelming majority (no count was needed) of parliament members voted. Job Cohen was the junior Minister of Justice in the government, and responsible for putting the new marriage and adoption laws through parliament.
The legislation, took effect in April 2001, and was expected to affect about 20,000 Dutch children with parents of the same sex.
As of December 2001, just under 2,000 same-sex couples have received legal marriage licenses.
The Central Bureau of Statistics stated that, as of June 2002, One-of-every-seven couples had made their relationship official, either by registering as a partnership or by marriage. Also, one-in-every-13 same-sex couples have adopted children. Most of these couples are women.
During the first year, by April 2002, at least 2,414 couples received marriage licenses.
By September 2003, about 4,000 couples had registered.
According to Jan Latten of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in an April 2006 interview, same-sex couples marry less often than opposite-sex couples. This is believed to be because they have children less often than straight couples. The divorce rate, though, is the same as that of heterosexuals, however, female couples divorce more often than male couples.
On August 23, 2005, the Superior Court of the Caribbean island of Aruba (population 71,566) ruled that the island must recognize and register a marriage between a local woman and a Dutch woman. The court stated: “Since Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it must comply with demands of the Kingdom.” While granting Aruba self rule, Kingdom law mandates that Aruba, the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles must recognize each other’s legal documents.
Charlene and Esther Oduber-Lamers got married in the Netherlands in 2001. After settling on Aruba, they facing harassment after suing for recognition of their marriage, which prompted their moving to the Netherlands. Esther also faced Aruban immigration rules that prohibited her from spending more than half of each year on the island. Plus, Charlene’s government employer refused to grant Esther spousal health coverage.
The Aruban government said it will appeal the ruling, taking it to the Netherlands’ Supreme Court. A spokesman for Aruban Prime Minister Nelson Oduber claims he considers it a moral issue.
While marriage is available only to citizens and legal residents of the Netherlands, residency can be established by using a Dutch address for at least four months.
Advice from Kees Waaldijk:
“In Dutch immigration law the position of married, registered and unmarried cohabiting couples is almost identical. Therefore it will normally not be necessary to marry, or to register a partnership, in order to obtain a residence permit for one of the partners. Nevertheless, if a foreigner wants to immigrate to the Netherlands to join his or her partner there, it is advisable to first take legal advice about the other conditions (e.g. minimum income, housing, proof of relationship, formalities). Such advice can be given by Dutch consulates, Dutch lawyers, or the Dutch immigration service.”
Should a Dutch same-sex married couple come to the U.S., the U.S. would refuse to recognize the marriage because the DoMA law.
[See our article: Defense of Marriage Act]
Also, the majority of U.S. states have made laws denying recognition to any legal marriage licenses held by same-sex couples.
Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage
South Africa (2005)
New Zealand (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
US States & Territories
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Rhode Island (2013)
New Jersey (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
West Virginia (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
Ruling: All U.S. States must now
allow same-sex couples the
freedom of legal marriage.
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)