LGBT rights in Sweden

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Location of Sweden (dark green)

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

StatusLegal since 1944,
age of consent equalized in 1972
Gender identityRight to change legal gender since 1972;
no sterilization or surgery required since 2013
MilitaryLGBT people are allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protectionsSexual orientation and gender identity/expression protections (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2009
AdoptionSince 2003[1]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) rights in Sweden are regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world.[2] Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944 and the age of consent was equalized to that of heterosexual activity in 1972. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Legislation allowing legal gender changes without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013.

After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009.[3] Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 1987 and on the basis of gender identity and expression since 2009. Gay and lesbian couples can petition to adopt since 2003, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005. Sweden has been recognized as one of the most socially liberal countries in Europe and in the world, with recent polls indicating that a large majority of Swedes support LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.[4] Polling from the 2019 Eurobarometer showed that 98% of Swedes believed gay and bisexual people should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people, the highest in the European Union, and 92% supported same-sex marriage.[5]

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Sweden legalised same-sex sexual activity in 1944, with the age of consent set at 18. In 1987, in order to combat the spread of HIV, the Riksdag passed a law against sex in gay saunas and against prostitution.[6] It was repealed in 2004.[7] In 1972, Sweden became the first country in the world to allow transgender people to legally change their sex, provided free hormone therapy, and an equal age of consent was set at 15. This was followed by an activist occupation of the main office of the National Board of Health and Welfare. In October 1979, Sweden joined the few other countries in the world at the time to declassify homosexuality as an illness.[8] Being transgender was declassified as an illness in 2017.[9]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Registered partnership[edit]

Same-sex couples in Sweden had the right to register their partnerships from 1995 onwards. These partnerships had all the rights of marriages except "as provided by sections 3–4" of the law. As well, all provisions of a statute or any other legislation related to marriage or spouses applied to registered partnerships and partners, except as under sections 3–4.[10]

Since May 2009, new registered partnerships can no longer be entered into due to the legalization of same-sex marriage. The status of existing partnerships remains unaltered, except that they can be converted to marriage if the couple so desires.

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Effective 1 May 2009, marriage between two people of the same sex has been legal in Sweden after a government report published in March 2007, written by former Chancellor of Justice Hans Regner, proposing that marriage be extended to same-sex couples.[11]

On 1 April 2009, the Riksdag voted on a change to the law, legalizing same-sex marriages.[12] All parties supported the proposal, with the exception of the Christian Democrats. The Swedish Cabinet Government, under whom this legislation was passed, consisted of the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.[13][14]

Vote totals Votes
Vote passed Yes 261
No 22
Abstain 16
Absent 50

On 22 October 2009, the Assembly of the Church of Sweden voted in favour of giving its blessing to same-sex couples,[15] including the use of the term for marriage: äktenskap ("matrimony"). The new rules were introduced on 1 November 2009.

Vote totals Votes
Vote passed Yes 176
No 62
Abstain 11
Absent 0

Adoption and family planning[edit]

Since 1 February 2003, registered partners have had the same adoption rights as married couples. Single LGBT individuals are permitted to adopt as well. With regard to foreign adoptions, the Ministry of Justice states: "As regards adoption from abroad, it is important that we are sensitive and aware that those countries with which Sweden cooperates often hold a different view on homosexual people and homosexual parenthood. Cooperation regarding intercountry adoptions must be based on trust. This means that the limitations and terms that the countries of origin lay down must be complied with."[16]

In 2005, a new law was passed allowing lesbian couples to access assisted insemination in public hospitals.[17]

Military service[edit]

LGBT people are not banned from military service. Sweden explicitly allows LGBT people to serve openly in the military.[18] Sweden was amongst the first nations in the world to allow LGBT people to serve.[19] In fact, gay men were allowed to serve even before Sweden demedicalized homosexuality in 1979.[19]

The Swedish Armed Forces states that it actively works for an environment where individuals do not feel it to be necessary to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.[19][20] In 2015, they launched a Pride campaign featuring a soldier in uniform with the rainbow flag badget to her arm. The text's bold letters translates to "Some things you should not have to camouflage," followed by the text "Equality is an important ingredient in a democracy. In the military, we treat each other with respect and see our differences as a strength. We are an inclusive organisation where all who serve and contribute should feel welcomed and respected".[21]

Transgender rights[edit]

The ability to legally change the gender marker on official identification documents in Sweden has been possible since 1972. However, certain criteria had to be met: one had to be a Swedish citizen and 18 years old, unmarried (having divorced if necessary), have lived for two years as the opposite gender, be sterilized and have undergone sex reassignment surgery.[22] The law was re-evaluated in 2007, proposing removals of the requirements to be a Swedish citizen, unmarried and sterilized, and presented to the Christian Democrat Minister for Health and Social Affairs.[23] The Swedish Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights inquired about the future of the proposed new law.[24] In January 2013, the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal deemed the requirements to be sterilized and undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to change gender unconstitutional, and the requirement was thus de facto abolished. In July of the same year, the requirements were removed de jure as the Riksdag passed an amendment to the law to remove the requirements.[25] Sterilization had been in effect since 1972, and is thought to have been used on 500 to 800 transgender people.[25]

In February 2015, the Löfven Government introduced two bills. The first one allowing legal gender change without any form of psychiatric or psychological evaluation as well as the need of a diagnosis or any kind of medical intervention. The other one allowing sex reassignment surgery if the person applying for it submits a positive opinion from a psychiatrist.[26] As of 2019, the bills remain pending and have been the subject of several public consultations.[27] As of August 2020, the bills are still in an early draft form.[28]

In March 2017, the Löfven Government announced it would compensate an estimated 800 transgender people who were forced to undergo sex reassignment surgery and be sterilized so as to have their sex legally reassigned.[29] In late March 2018, the Swedish Parliament approved the move. The compensation amount is 225,000 SEK (some 21,000 euros/27,000 U.S. dollars) per person.[30]

In January 2018, the majority of the parties in the Riksdag were interested in researching the possibility of introducing a third legal gender on official documents.[31]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Unfair discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexuals has been outlawed under the Penal Code since 1987. In 2008, transgender identity or expression was added to a new unified discrimination code which came into force on 1 January 2009.[32][33]

Since 2002, the Constitution of Sweden has banned discrimination on the grounds of "sexual orientation". Article 12 states:[34]

No act of law or other provision may imply the unfavourable treatment of anyone because they belong to a minority group by reason of ethnic origin, colour, or other similar circumstances or on account of their sexual orientation.

Until 2009, the Swedish Ombudsman against Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation (Ombudsmannen mot diskriminering på grund av sexuell läggning), normally referred to as HomO, was the Swedish office of the ombudsman against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. It ceased to exist on 1 January 2009, and was merged with the other ombudsmen against discrimination into a new body: the Discrimination Ombudsman. The previously existing acts against discrimination were also replaced with a new discrimination act.[35]

The term HomO was used both to refer to the office and the title of its government-appointed acting head; the last HomO was Hans Ytterberg. The HomO investigated grievances of individuals and filed class action suits on their behalf, for example a successful action against a restaurant owner in Stockholm who had harassed a lesbian couple. The HomO office was key in taking a number of initiatives of its own and submitting parliamentary proposals, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

On 16 May 2018, the Swedish Parliament added "transgender identity and expression" to the country's hate crime legislation, effective on 1 July 2018. Sexual orientation was added in 2010.[36] The Parliament also voted to add "transgender identity and expression" to the country's hate speech law, effective on 1 January 2019.[37][38][39] Sweden's hate speech law has been criticised for being "selectively applied", as the Swedish authorities refused to prosecute a Halmstad imam who in 2015 called homosexuality a "virus". The imam was vindicated by the authorities. The move was condemned by the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, which expressed fears that his views might spread to the wider Muslim community in Sweden. Mohamed Omar, a Muslim blogger, claims that homophobia in the Swedish Muslim community is very mainstream.[40] Omar claims that "during my years as a Muslim, I have visited a number of Swedish mosques from north to south. In all, homophobia has been normal. I have heard worse things than "homosexuality is a virus". In no mosque, I repeat [none], have I encountered a teaching that tolerates homosexuality".[40]

Blood donation[edit]

In the autumn of 2008, the National Board of Health and Welfare proposed that men who have sex with men (MSM) should become eligible to donate blood, but only after a six-month deferral period after sexual intercourse. An earlier proposition in 2006 to allow MSMs to donate blood was rejected.[41] From 1 March 2010, men who have sex with men were supposed to be allowed to donate blood, after one year of abstaining from sex,[42] but the blood banks rejected the law, causing delay until 1 October 2011 at the latest.[43] This allowed them time to adapt to the new regulations. In November 2011, all blood banks in Sweden were instructed to begin accepting donations by gay and bisexual men, provided they haven't had sex in a year.[44]

Public opinion[edit]

LGBTI Pride in Sweden. Seen in the picture is the Left Party.
The 2018 edition of Stockholm Pride

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Sweden is one of Europe's most gay-friendly countries, with extensive legislation protecting gay and lesbian rights, including anti-discrimination and same-sex marriage legislation.[45] A 2006 European Union member poll showed that 71% of Swedes supported same-sex marriage.[2] The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 90% of Swedes thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 7% were against.[46]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, an LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society's view on homosexuality, how do they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. Sweden was ranked fourth with a GHI score of 73.[47]

The 2019 Eurobarometer showed that 98% of Swedes believed gay and bisexual people should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people, and 92% supported same-sex marriage.[5]

LGBT rights movement in Sweden[edit]

The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL; Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas, transpersoners och queeras rättigheter), one of the world's oldest LGBT organizations, originated in October 1950 as a Swedish branch of the Danish Federation of 1948. In April 1952, RFSL adopted its current name and declared itself as an independent organization. In 2009, it had 28 branches throughout Sweden, from Piteå in the north to Malmö in the south, with over 6,000 members.[48]

RFSL works for LGBT people through political lobbying, the dissemination of information, and the organization of social and support activities. Internationally, RFSL works with the ILGA and also collaborates with other LGBT organizations in neighboring countries.[48] The federation operates counseling centers for both women and men in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. The counseling is intended for people who wish to talk about coming out, sex, HIV/AIDS and other health issues, and relationships, as well as those who need assistance in their contact with the authorities and healthcare institutions, or who require legal assistance with, for example, asylum and wills.[48]

Following the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, several more organizations were established in Sweden, including Uppsala Förening för Homosexuella (Uppsala Association for Homosexuals), founded in 1971 in the city of Uppsala, and Gay Power Club from Örebro. The latter organized the first public gay demonstration in Sweden on 15 May 1971, with about fifteen participants. Further demonstrations in Uppsala were held a few weeks later and then in Stockholm on 27 June. There was disagreement within the RFSL in the 1970s, with younger activists advocating a more "radical" movement with public demonstrations, and many feeling the group had failed to address the rights of lesbians and bisexuals. In 1975, several members of the group split to form their own association, the Lesbian Front (Lesbisk Front). LGBT groups saw their first political victories during this period; in 1973 the Riksdag stated that "homosexual coexistence is from a social point of view a fully acceptable coexistence", and in 1978 the state appointed an inquiry into the living conditions of gays and lesbians in Sweden. The inquiry suggested a ban on unlawful discrimination, refugee status for perecuted LGBT people, constitutional protections for gays and lesbians and a cohabitation law between same-sex couples.[49]

Sweden is frequently referred to as one of the world's most LGBT-tolerant and accepting countries, with various organisations and venues catering to LGBT people, supportive laws and policies, and high public and societal acceptance. Legislation concerning marriage, anti-discrimination and adoption have all been amended in the past decades to specifically apply to LGBT people and same-sex couples. In 2009, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and Norway. The move was supported by parties across the political spectrum, as well as the Church of Sweden, the former state church (slightly less than two-thirds of Swedes are members). 2015 polling found that Swedes are the second-most supportive of same-sex marriage within the European Union at 90%, behind the Netherlands at 91%. This high societal tolerance has allowed Swedish LGBT people to come out, establish various associations, and "enjoy the same rights and obligations as everybody else".[50] In March 2019, Sweden was named the world's best LGBT-friendly travel destination, along with Canada and Portugal. Neighbouring Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland were all ranked forth.[51] Sweden also hosts several gay pride festivals every year. Stockholm Pride is the biggest and oldest such festival, and has been organized annually since 1998. The event is usually attended by half a million spectators, including about 40,000 who participate in the march itself.[52] In later years, pride festivals have also been arranged in Gothenburg, Malmö and Uppsala, and local pride events are also hosted in smaller communities, including Lund, Örebro, Halmstad, Falun and others. In addition, Sápmi Pride is held in the far north, rotating between Norway, Finland and Sweden every year. It was first held in 2014 in Kiruna. Apart from pride festivities, these cities also host a range of gays clubs, bars, cafés and other venues.

Summary table[edit]

Yes/No Notes
Same-sex sexual activity
Same-sex sexual activity legal No Since 1944
Equal age of consent (15) Yes Since 1972
Discrimination laws
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only Yes Since 1987
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes Since 1987
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes Since 1987 for sexual orientation and since 2019 for transgender identity
Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity Yes Since 2009
Hate crime law includes sexual orientation and gender identity Yes Since 2010 for sexual orientation and since 2018 for transgender identity
Same-sex unions
Same-sex marriages Yes Since 2009
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes Since 1995
Adoption and children
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes Since 2003
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes Since 2003
Access to IVF for lesbians and automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth Yes Since 2005
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No Illegal for heterosexual couples as well
Military service
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Yes Since 1976
Transgender rights
Right to change legal gender Yes Since 1972, no sterilization since 2013
Transgender identity declassified as an illness Yes Since 2017
Ability to change legal gender without a psychiatric or psychological evaluation No
Ability to change legal gender without court approval No
Ability to change legal gender for minors No
Ability to change legal name without a psychiatric or psychological evaluation Yes Since 2009
Third legal gender No
Conversion therapy banned on minors No
Homosexuality declassified as an illness Yes Since 1979
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes / No After a 1-year deferral period

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sweden legalises gay adoption". BBC News. 6 June 2002. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Eight EU Countries Back Same-Sex Marriage". Angus Reid Global Monitor. 24 December 2006. Archived from the original on 27 February 2010. Retrieved 21 March 2009.
  3. ^ "Sweden allows same-sex marriage". BBC. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 3 April 2009.
  4. ^ "Same-Sex Marriage". Ipsos. 7–21 May 2013. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Eurobarometer on Discrimination 2019: The social acceptance of LGBTI people in the EU". TNS. European Commission. p. 2. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  6. ^ "HBT-historia". RFSL. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  7. ^ "Ny smittskyddslag från och med 1 juli (SoU6)". Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  8. ^ Dielemans, Jennie; Quistbergh, Fredrik (2001). Motstånd. Bokförlaget DN. ISBN 978-91-7588-367-0.
  9. ^ "Sweden to stop calling transgender people 'mentally ill'". The 28 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Lag (1994:1117) om registrerat partnerskap Svensk författningssamling 1994:1994:1117 t.o.m. SFS 2006:213 - Riksdagen".
  11. ^ "Inquiry gives green light to gay marriage". 26 January 2012. Archived from the original on 1 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  12. ^ "Gays Win Marriage Rights". 1 April 2009.
  13. ^ "Äktenskap" [Marriage]. (in Swedish). Kristdemokraterna. Retrieved 3 March 2018. Kristdemokraterna förespråkar en civilrättslig registrering som är lika för hetero- och homosexuella par. Därmed skiljer man på den rättsliga ordning som staten ska reglera och kyrkornas ceremoni. Förslaget har sin grund i förhållandet att kyrka och stat numera är åtskilda och innebär att myndighetsutövningen i detta sammanhang förbehålls staten. Rent praktiskt innebär det att alla par som vill gifta sig går till en myndighet, exempelvis skattemyndigheten, och registrerar det juridiska förbundet. Därefter inramar varje par giftermålet på det sätt som de själva önskar.
  14. ^ Larsson, Mats J. (10 September 2017). "S och SD i hård konflikt om kyrkan" [S and SD in hard battle about the church]. (in Swedish). Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 3 March 2018. [SD] har tidigare varit emot samkönade äktenskap, men säger sig nu acceptera den ordning som gäller i dag. Däremot vill SD att nya präster som inte vill viga homosexuella par ska få en plats i kyrkan.
  15. ^ "Kyrkomötet öppnade för enkönade äktenskap". DN.SE. 22 October 2009. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  16. ^ Government Offices of Sweden. "Homosexual partnership and adoption" Archived 19 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
  17. ^ "Ja till lesbisk insemination". Svenska Dagbladet. 3 June 2005. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  18. ^ "Försvarsmaktens styrdokument för Jämlikhet" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2011.
  19. ^ a b c Sundevall, Fia; Persson, Alma (2016). "LGBT in the Military: Policy Development in Sweden 1944–2014". Sexuality Research and Social Policy. 13 (2): 119–129. doi:10.1007/s13178-015-0217-6. PMC 4841839. PMID 27195050.
  20. ^ Swedish Armed Forces. "Our Core values". Försvarsmakten. Archived from the original on 16 May 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  21. ^ "Swedish Army: "Some things you should not have to camouflage"". samesame. Archived from the original on 3 June 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  22. ^ Hanna Jedvik (5 March 2007). "Lagen om könsbyte ska utredas". RFSU. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2007.
  23. ^ TT (19 March 2007). "Kritiserat lagförslag om könsbyte". Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  24. ^ Hannes Delling (13 June 2009). "Li tvingas skilja sig för att få byta kön". Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  25. ^ a b Jenkin, Matthew (11 January 2013). "Sweden ends forced sterilization of trans". Gay Star News.
  26. ^ "Swedish law proposals on legal gender recognition and gender reassignment treatment | ILGA-Europe".
  27. ^ "Activists say Sweden falling behind on transgender rights". Sveriges Radio. 2 August 2019.
  28. ^ "RFSL and RFSU meet social minister Lena Hallengren". youtube. 10 August 2020.
  29. ^ Sweden to offer compensation for transgender sterilizations Reuters
  30. ^ "Historic Victory for Trans People – the Swedish Parliament Decides on Compensation for Forced Sterilizations". RFSL. 21 March 2018.
  31. ^ "a majority in the parliament wants to research the question of a third legal gender". 19 January 2018.
  32. ^ Swedish Code of Statutes Archived 6 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine SFS 2008:567 Discrimination Act. Published 25 June 2008, issued on 5 June 2008.
  33. ^ "HomO Legislation Page". Archived from the original on 9 October 2006. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  34. ^ "The Instrument of Government. Chapter 2: Fundamental rights and freedoms". Article 12, Act of 2015 (PDF). Constitution of Sweden. Riskdag.
  35. ^ "Swedish Code of Statutes SFS 2008:567 Discrimination Act Published 25 June 2008" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Rainbow Europe".
  37. ^ Sveriges Riksdag: Amended fundamental laws relating to the media (KU2).
  38. ^ "Sweden adopts hate crime legislation protecting trans people". RFSL. 18 May 2018.
  39. ^ Sveriges Riksdag: Ändrade mediegrundlagar (vilande grundlagsbeslut, m.m.). (In Swedish)
  40. ^ a b "Gardell: Moskén – den arabiska garderoben". Expressen (in Swedish). 11 October 2015.
  41. ^ "Förbud att ge blod kan hävas". Svenska Dagbladet. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2009.
  42. ^ "Sweden to end ban on gay blood donors". AFP.
  43. ^ "". Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  44. ^ "Frågor och svar om blodgivning – förändrade regler från april 2010" (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 28 August 2012.
  45. ^ Wockner, Rex (1 June 2010). "Sweden is named Europe's most gay-friendly country". Pink Paper. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012.
  46. ^ "Special Eurobarometer 437" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 January 2016.
  47. ^ The Gay Happiness Index. The very first worldwide country ranking, based on the input of 115,000 gay men Planet Romeo
  48. ^ a b c "Om RFSL in English". RFSL. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2009.
  49. ^ "Historia". Sweden Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (in Swedish). Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  50. ^ "For the right to be who you are". 4 December 2013.
  51. ^ Daniel Avery (6 March 2019). "Canada, Portugal, Sweden Named World's Most LGBTQ-friendly Travel Destinations". Newsweek.
  52. ^ "Thousands revel in Stockholm for Pride". Radio Sweden. 1 August 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carlson-Rainer, Elise. "Sweden Is a World Leader in Peace, Security, and Human Rights." World Affairs 180.4 (2017): 79–85. online
  • Rydström, J. Sinners and citizens: Bestiality and homosexuality in Sweden, 1880–1950 (U of Chicago Press, 2003) online.
  • Rydström J. & K. Mustola, eds. Criminally queer: homosexuality and criminal law in Scandinavia 1842–1999 (Amsterdam: Aksant, 2007). online
  • Sundevall, Fia, and Alma Persson. "LGBT in the military: policy development in Sweden 1944–2014." Sexuality Research and Social Policy 13.2 (2016): 119–129. online

External links[edit]