In Perspective: Very Few Nations have Redefined Marriage

Public Discourse 21 April 2015
Fewer than 9 percent of the countries belonging to the United Nations have redefined marriage to include same-sex relationships—and only one of those did so via its judiciary. A judicial redefinition of marriage would make the United States an extreme outlier on the global stage.

Very Few Nations have Redefined Marriage
There is no “emerging global consensus” for same-sex marriage. In fact, same-sex marriage in any form has been adopted by only 17 of the 193 member states of the United Nations—a mere 8.8 percent. In their brief, Koh and company stretch that number to twenty by counting Wales, Scotland, and England as separate nations, and by counting Finland, which has legislation in the works, but no final law.

All of the rest—176 sovereign nations— retain the understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That is, taking the 193 member states of the United Nations as the reference point, over ten times as many countries disallow same-sex marriage as allow it. Additionally, more nations have constitutional provisions defining marriage as the union of a husband and a wife—47, as of last month—than have recognized any form of same-sex union. Many other countries have adopted legal protections of same-sex unions that stop short of changing the definition of marriage.

Moreover, rejection of same-sex marriage is not the result of mere animus and intolerance: 95 of the 176 states allowing only traditional marriage have decriminalized homosexual conduct. Eighty-eight have affirmatively extended constitutional and/or legislative protections to LGBT individuals, including prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, considering hate crimes based on sexual orientation as an aggravating circumstance, prohibiting incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation, and constitutionally prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The countries that have refused to redefine marriage are a far cry from the “anti-models” that the Koh amicus brief puts forward. Rather, they are constitutional democracies that share our values of individual freedom.
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