LGBT rights in Belgium

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LGBT rights in Belgium
Location of  Belgium  (dark green)

– in Europe  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  –  [Legend]

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1795,
equal age of consent
Gender identity/expression Transgender persons allowed to change legal gender under certain conditions since 2007
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation and gender identity protections (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of
Statutory Cohabitation since 2000
Same-sex marriage since 2003
Adoption Same-sex couples have equal adoption rights as opposite-sex couples since 2006

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Belgium have been seen as some of the most progressive in Europe[1] and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1795, with an equal age of consent, except from 1965 until 1985. After granting same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits in 2000, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Same-sex adoption was completely legalized in 2006 and is equalized with that of opposite-sex adoption. Lesbian couples can get access to IVF as well. Discrimination protections based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public and private accommodations have also been enacted since 2003 and on gender identity/expression since 2014. Transsexuals have been allowed to change their legal gender under certain circumstances since 2007.

Belgium has frequently been officially referred to as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world,[2] with recent polls indicating that a majority of Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption. The previous Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, is an openly gay man and was one of the only three Prime Ministers in the world to identify as LGBT. Pascal Smet, the former Flemish Minister of Education (in the Peeters II Government) and current Brussels minister, is also openly gay.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1795 (when the country was a French possession).[3] Article 372 of the Penal Code sets the age of consent to 16, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender. This was briefly increased to 18 for same-sex sexual activity between 1965 and 1985 by the addition and later repeal of article 372bis to the Penal Code. It was inserted by an amendment of MP Freddy Terwagne (d) to the law of 8 April 1965 on youth protection. A bill submitted in June 1982 by MP Luc Van den Bossche to repeal the article was approved by the Chamber of Representatives on 13 May 1983. The Senate eventually concurred in June 1985; article 372bis was thus repealed by the law of 18 June 1985.[4][5]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Belgium became the second country to allow same-sex marriages in 2003 (after the Netherlands).[6] Same-sex couples have the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

Adoption and family planning[edit]

See also: LGBT parenting

Same-sex couples have had the same rights as opposite-sex couples in adopting children since 2006.[7] Also, lesbian couples can get access to IVF as well.

Generally, adoption law is regulated at federal level, whereas the adoption procedure is managed by the community governments. Between 2006 and 2014, 56 male same-sex couples and two female same-sex couples have domestically adopted a child in the Flemish Community (Flanders). In the same period, 12 children were domestically adopted in the French Community, giving a total of 70 LGBT domestic adoptions in Belgium in that period.[8]

Military service[edit]

LGBT people are not banned from military service.

Discrimination protections and hate crimes[edit]

The anti-discrimination law of 25 February 2003[9] included discrimination protections on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The law was replaced by a similar law in 2007.[10]

The 2003 and 2007 anti-discrimination laws also establish a penalty-enhancement for crimes motivated by hate on the basis of, among others, sex and sexual orientation.

On 29 November 2013, the Federal Government approved an expansion of the anti-discrimination law to include gender identity and gender expression. It was approved by the Federal Parliament and received Royal Assent on 22 May 2014.[11][12][13]

On 22 December 2014, the jury of the Court of Assize of Liège found four people guilty of murder of Ihsane Jarfi (fr), motivated by homophobia. It is the first case in Belgium in which a crime was officially qualified as being motivated by hate on the basis of sexual orientation.[14]

Transgender rights[edit]

The 2007 law concerning transsexuality[15] grants Belgians the right to change their legal gender, under the conditions that the person has a "constant and irreversible inner conviction to belong to the sex opposite to that mentioned in the birth certificate" and that "the physical body is adapted to the opposite sex as far as possible and justified from a medical point of view". This means sterilization is required.

In the period 2002–2012 there was a yearly average of 31 men and 14 women who officially changed their legal gender, with an increase since the 2007 law is in effect.[16] Prior to the 2007 law, a gender change was only possible through a court judgment.

Among Belgian hospitals or even internationally, the Ghent University Hospital (UZ Gent) is known for its specialisation in sex reassignment surgery. For example, many French transgender people go there due to a lack of accepting hospitals in France.[17]

As of 2015, the Michel Government, with UZ Gent gynaecologist Elke Sleurs (N-VA) as Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, plans to amend the 2007 law in order to remove the medical requirement of a legal gender change.[18] The law, approved by the Council of Ministers as draft bill on 9 December 2016, would take effect in 2018.[19][20]

Living conditions[edit]

LGBT people are generally well socially accepted in Belgium. There is a strong gay community, with numerous gay clubs. A European Union member poll showed 62% of Belgians support same-sex marriage extension to the whole Europe.[21]


LGBT rights are generally supported by the government and the main political parties, with the exception of the far-right Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang, formerly Flemish Block). When voting on the same-sex marriage bill, the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), Christian People's Party (CVP/CD&V), (Francophone) Socialist Party (PS), (Flemish) Socialist Party (sp.a), Ecolo, Agalev and the People's Union voted generally in favour except for several abstentions, whereas the Flemish Block and National Front voted against, the Christian Social Party (CSP/cdH) voted against with several abstentions and the Reformist Movement (MR) voted dividedly.

Several politicians are openly gay, two notable examples being the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo (PS) and the former Flemish Minister for Education (in the Peeters II Government), Pascal Smet[22] (sp.a). LGBT members of the Flemish Parliament are, among others, Piet De Bruyn (N-VA), Lorin Parys (N-VA) and Wellen mayor Els Robeyns (sp.a).

On 2 April 2014, the Flemish Parliament approved 96–0 (with 15 abstentions) a resolution introduced by MP Piet De Bruyn (N-VA) and supported by all political parties except Flemish Interest, calling for the government to take measures to support and advance the acceptance of transgender people in society.[23]

In the 2014 European Parliament election, UZ Gent gynaecologist Petra De Sutter was second on the list of Green, marking the first time a Belgian transgender was a candidate for parliament.[24]

Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, some criticised N-VA, the largest Flemish/Belgian party, joining the European Conservatives and Reformists parliamentary group, which contains several right-wing homophobic parties. However, N-VA asserted they would vote in favour of LGBT rights, and argued that this was an opportunity to change opinions of other parties in that group.[25]

LGBT rights movement in Belgium[edit]

Belgian gay rights activists are grouped into several organisations. Several of these are part of Çavaria and Wel Jong Niet Hetero (Dutch for 'Young But Not Straight'), two associations of Dutch-speaking GLBT organisations in the Flemish and Brussels regions of Belgium. The French-speaking counterpart in the Walloon and Brussels regions is the Federation des Associations Gayes et Lesbiennes.

Belgian gay rights activism is made most visible by means of the BLGP "Belgium Lesbian and Gay Pride" demonstration marches. The marches are held annually in Belgium's capital Brussels since 1996, with similar events having been held intermittently in preceding years in both Brussels and other cities. While the marches have a festive character, they are also used to present the gay movement's political agenda in the form of a list of demands. The list was updated a number of times (in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2005) and has included demands for anti-discrimination laws, inclusion of gay relationships in high-school sex education and the right to adoption by same-sex parents.

Many of the activist's demands, including the more prominent ones such as recognition of same-sex marriage and adoption rights, have been met over the years, leading some to wonder whether the marches had become obsolete. They point out that this was reflected in dwindling participant numbers for the 2007 march, although the organisers contest that the number of participants actually declined. Others attribute any such decline to simply bad weather and the event not being as attractive as the gay pride marches in neighbouring countries. The 2007 event nevertheless still had a list of 17 demands to march for. Still, it can be taken as a sign of the almost complete equalisation of gay and straight rights in Belgium that the primary demand was a call to Belgian politicians to play a prominent role in establishing similar rights at the level of the European Union. Several members of almost all political parties also walked in the 2007 march and earlier marches, with the notable exception of the extreme-right wing party Vlaams Belang.

In the 2007 march, some participants were seen with a banner "Thank you Verhofstadt!", in reference to the fact that many gay rights such as same-sex marriage in Belgium were realised by the first two governments of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (Open VLD), which respectively consisted of liberals, socialists and greens, and of liberals and socialists.

Prior to 1998, the marches were held under the name "Roze Zaterdag – Samedi Rose" ("Pink Saturday"). The name was adopted for the first ever Belgian demonstration march for gay rights in 1979, taken from the same-named series of Dutch marches which were first held the year before. The 1979 march was organised on 5 May in Brussels, with subsequent marches the next two years in respectively Antwerp and Brussels again. After this first short series of annual events, it was only in 1990 that the decision was made to again organise the marches regularly, starting anew on 5 May in Antwerp and then bi-annually in Ghent and again in Antwerp. The latter choice of city was motivated by what is known as "Black Sunday", when the extreme right-wing party Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) scored a major electoral victory in Antwerp. Then in 1996, "Pink Saturday" was moved indefinitely to Brussels, and became an annual event. The next year, the list of demands was for the first time prominently displayed on 10 large banners carried by participants throughout the march. Finally, in 1998, the name of the march was changed to Belgian Lesbian and Gay Pride.

In 2013, Antwerp was the host city of the third World Outgames.

Blood donation[edit]

Currently, males having sex with other men cannot donate blood to maximise the security of blood transfusion.[26]

The gay male blood donor controversy is a political issue, shared by political parties, health representatives and LGBT associations.[27][28][29][30]

In 2016, minister of health Maggie De Block promised to re-evaluate the law using the newest scientific discoveries. In November 2016, she announced the policy will be changed in 2017, making it possible for gay males to donate blood if they didn't have sex for at least 12 months. [31]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1795)
Equal age of consent Yes (Except between 1965–1985)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2003)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2003)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2003)
Same-sex marriage Yes (Since 2003)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2000)
Both joint and step-child adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2006)
Gays allowed to serve in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2007)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth Yes (Since 2015)
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Not explicitly regulated by law)
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes / No (Currently life-long ban, will be changed in 2017 to a 1 year deferral period)

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults
  4. ^ (Dutch) (French) Strafwetboek / Code pénal
  5. ^ (Dutch) Wetsvoorstel tot opheffing van de artikelen 372bis en 377, derde lid, van het Strafwetboek, Senate
  6. ^ Major legal consequences of marriage, cohabitation and registered partnership for different-sex and same-sex partners in Belgium
  7. ^ Belgium passes gay adoption law
  8. ^ "58 binnenlandse adoptiekinderen naar holebigezin in Vlaanderen". ZIZO-Online. 5 August 2015. 
  9. ^ 25 FEBRUARI 2003. - Wet ter bestrijding van discriminatie (...) / 25 FEVRIER 2003. - Loi tendant à lutter contre la discrimination (...)
  10. ^ Wet van 10 mei 2007 ter bestrijding van bepaalde vormen van discriminatie / Loi de 10 mai 2007 tendant à lutter contre certaines formes de discrimination
  11. ^ "Federale regering breidt antidiscriminatiewet uit met genderidentiteit en -expressie". ZIZO-Online. 29 November 2013. 
  12. ^ "Betere bescherming dankzij uitbreiding discriminatiewet naar genderidentiteit en genderexpressie". Federal Public Service Justice. 29 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Wetsontwerp tot wijziging van de wet van 10 mei 2007 ter bestrijding van discriminatie tussen vrouwen en mannen met het oog op de uitbreiding ervan naar genderidentiteit en genderexpressie, Senate
  14. ^ "Daders eerste homofobe moord in België veroordeeld". De Standaard. 22 December 2014. 
  15. ^ (Dutch) Wet van 10 mei 2007 betreffende de transseksualiteit; (French) Loi du 10 mai 2007 relative à la transsexualité
  16. ^ Transseksuele personen in België – 2012, Institute for the equality for women and men
  17. ^ "Française Chloë wil in Gent geslachtsoperatie ondergaan". 14 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "Staatssecretaris voor Gelijke Kansen Elke Sleurs wil af van medische eis in transgenderwet". ZIZO-Online. 13 January 2015. 
  19. ^ "België schaft in 2018 medische eis voor transgenders af". ZiZo Online. 8 December 2016. 
  20. ^ "It's soon to become easier to change sex". 8 December 2016. 
  21. ^ Europe Split On Gay Marriage
  22. ^ (Dutch) Vlaams minister van onderwijs Pascal Smet out zich als homo
  23. ^ Voorstel van resolutie betreffende de algemene maatschappelijke aanvaarding en gelijkschakeling van transgenders, Flemish Parliament
  24. ^ "Petra De Sutter op tweede plaats Europese lijst Groen". Het Laatste Nieuws. 25 February 2014. 
  25. ^ "Bart De Wever: N-VA zal voor holebirechten stemmen in Europees Parlement". ZIZO-Online. 11 August 2014. 
  26. ^ "Avis du CSH relatif à la sécurisation maximale de la collecte et de la transfusion sanguine (CSH 8094)." (in French). Brussels: FPS Health Belgium. 2005-02-18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-04-20. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  27. ^ "La lutte contre l'interdiction du don de sang par les homosexuels - FDF". FDF. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  28. ^ "Don de sang : les homos toujours à l'index". Arc-en-ciel Wallonnie. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  29. ^ "Don de sang impossible pour les homosexuels: Ecolo demande à Onkelinx d'agir". La Libre Belgique. 3 September 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  30. ^ Genot, Zoé (May 2013). "Homo/Don de sang : Onkelinx reconnait que le dossier avance lentement... !". Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  31. ^

External links[edit]