Same-sex marriage in Belgium

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Same-sex marriage in Belgium has been legal since 1 June 2003. A bill for legalization was passed by the Senate on 28 November 2002, and by the Chamber of Representatives on 30 January 2003. It entered into force on 1 June, after King Albert II gave his royal assent. Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands. "Statutory cohabitation", open to any two legally consenting cohabiting persons, has been possible since 1 January 2000.

Statutory cohabitation[edit]

In 1995, a bill was introduced in Parliament to provide for a legal framework of "cohabitation agreements". It was mostly intended as a response to the lowering marriage rates, rather than giving rights to same-sex couples. In 1998, the bill was changed to "statutory cohabitation" (Dutch: wettelijke samenwoning; French: cohabitation légale; German: gesetzliches Zusammenwohnen) and finally voted on. The Chamber of Representatives approved it by a 98–10 vote with 32 abstentions and the Senate by a 39–8 vote with 19 abstentions. The Act establishing statutory cohabitation,[a] also known as the Act of 23 November 1998, gives limited rights to registered same-sex and opposite-sex couples by amending certain provisions of the Belgian Civil Code and the Belgian Judicial Code. However, being a couple is not a requirement to make a declaration of statutory cohabitation; relatives can do so too. The law was legally published on 12 January 1999 but would not go into effect until 1 January 2000 (see below).


From 2000 to 2014, 698,395 people had reported being in a statutory cohabitation, with that number heavily increasing over the years. 35% of these cohabitations, however, had ended by 2014. In 2014, 3.2% of all statutory cohabitations were between same-sex couples.[1]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe¹
  Civil union
  Limited domestic recognition (cohabitation)
  Limited foreign recognition (residency rights)
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples
¹ May include recent laws or court decisions that have not yet entered into effect.


In the late 1990s, gay rights organisations in Belgium lobbied for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Belgian civil law did not explicitly require that two people be of opposite gender to be able to marry, as this was considered self-evident. Private member's bills in the 1990s by Vlaams Blok senators to add this as an explicit requirement were never considered.[2][3]

Verhofstadt Government[edit]

The election programmes of the SP (Flemish Social Democrats), Agalev (Flemish Greens) and VLD (Flemish Liberals) for the 13 June 1999 elections included the aim to legalise same-sex marriage. The new Verhofstadt I Government was formed, which was notably made up of a coalition of liberal, socialist and green parties and excluded the long-dominant Christian Democrats, who lost the elections due to the Dioxin Affair. The coalition agreement included "implementing a full legal partnership scheme" as well as "immediately making the Act of 23 November 1998 enter into force", which had not been done yet.[4] A royal order signed on 14 December and published on 23 December 1999 made the law on statutory cohabitation go into effect on 1 January 2000.[5]

In 1999, the PS (French-speaking Social Democrats) and Ecolo (French-speaking Greens) also announced they agreed to legalise same-sex marriage. At that point, the only remaining party in government that opposed same-sex marriage was the French-speaking liberal PRL (later merged into MR), mainly because it was opposed to adoption rights for same-sex couples. PRL agreed not to block same-sex marriage if adoption rights were excluded. As the first same-sex marriage in the Netherlands was performed on 1 April 2001, the Belgian Government, mostly under the lead of Minister of Health Magda Aelvoet (Agalev), began considering it as well.[6][7] On 22 June, the Council of Ministers formally approved opening marriage to same-sex couples.[8] In September, the largest opposition party, the Christian People's Party (CVP), held a party convention where they rebranded into Christian Democratic & Flemish (CD&V), with a renewed party platform, including the aim to legalise same-sex marriage, put forward by their youth wing.

On 30 November 2001, however, the Council of State gave a negative legal opinion on the bill, saying that "marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman".[9] LGBT organisations and government ministers criticised the opinion and said they would proceed with the legislation.[10] The Council of Ministers formally approved the government bill on 8 December 2001 and in second reading on 30 January 2002, and submitted it to the Chamber of Representatives on 14 March 2002, where it faced a Justice Committee overloaded with bills to consider.[11] In May 2002, the government bill was then withdrawn from the Chamber and instead introduced as a private member's bill (which does not require opinions by the Council of State) in the Senate by the group leaders of the majority parties, Jeannine Leduc (VLD), Philippe Mahoux (PS), Philippe Monfils (MR), Myriam Vanlerberghe (SP.A-Spirit), Marie Nagy (Ecolo) and Frans Lozie (Agalev).

As Minister Aelvoet resigned on 28 August 2002 and elections were to be held in June 2003, the fate of the bill was unclear. Some politicians also accused Philippe Monfils (MR) of deliberately stalling the bill.[12][13] Nevertheless, new momentum was gained at the start of the new parliamentary year in October 2002. The Senate Justice Committee held hearings and voted 11–4 to approve the bill. It passed in the full Senate on 28 November 2002, with 46 votes to 15 (and 4 abstentions), and on 30 January 2003 the bill passed the Chamber of Representatives by 91 votes to 22 (and 9 abstentions).[14][15][16][17] The Flemish Liberals and Democrats, Christian Democratic and Flemish, the (Francophone) Socialist Party, the (Flemish) Socialist Party, 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 Humanist Democratic Centre voted against with several abstentions and the Reformist Movement voted mostly against.

Political party Language
(28 November 2002)
Chamber of Representatives
(30 January 2003)
Total Yes No Abstain Absent /
Not voted
Total Yes No Abstain Absent /
Not voted
Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD) * Dutch 11 24
Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) Dutch 10 21
Socialist Party (PS) * French/German 9+1 19
Reformist Movement (MR) * French 9 18
Flemish Block Dutch 6 15
Socialist Party Differently (SP.A) * Dutch 6 14
Ecolo * French 6 10
Agalev * Dutch 5 9
Humanist Democratic Centre (cdH) French 5 10
People's Union (VU-ID) ** Dutch 3 8
National Front (FN) French 1
Independent French 1
Total 71 46 15 4 6 150 91 22 9 28
* Coalition of the 1999-2003 Verhofstadt I Government.
** The party had recently split, but was still technically together as a parliamentary group.

King Albert II signed and promulgated the bill on 13 February 2003 and on 28 February it was published in the Belgian Official Journal and came into force on 1 June.

The first paragraph of article 143 of the Belgian Civil Code (Book I, Title V, Chapter I) now reads as follows:

  • in Dutch: Een huwelijk kan worden aangegaan door twee personen van verschillend of van hetzelfde geslacht.
  • in French: Deux personnes de sexe différent ou de même sexe peuvent contracter mariage.
  • in German: Zwei Personen verschiedenen oder gleichen Geschlechts können eine Ehe eingehen.
(Two persons of different sex or of the same sex may contract marriage.)
Mayor of Liège, Willy Demeyer, officiating the wedding of a gay couple.

The first female couple married on 6 June 2003 and the first male couple on 13 June 2003, both in Kapellen near Antwerp.[18]

In November 2003, opponents of same-sex marriage petitioned the Arbitration Court to invalidate the law as unconstitutional. Their main argument held that treating fundamentally different situations the same way violates the equality principle of the Constitution.[19] In October 2004, the Arbitration Court, nowadays known as the Constitutional Court, rejected the request.[20]

Subsequent changes[edit]

Originally, Belgium allowed the marriages of foreign same-sex couples only if their country of origin also allowed these unions. A circulaire by Minister of Justice Laurette Onkelinx (PS) of 23 January 2004, however, permits any couple to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived in the country for a minimum of three months. This was codified into the Code of Private International Law,[b] which took effect on 1 October 2004.

The same-sex marriage law did not permit adoption by same-sex partners, and as birth within a same-sex marriage did not imply affiliation, the same-sex spouse of the biological parent had no way to become the legal parent. A proposal to permit adoption was approved 77–62 (with 7 abstentions) by the Chamber of Representatives on 1 December 2005,[21][22] and 34–33 (with 2 abstentions) by the Senate on 20 April 2006.[23] It received royal assent on 18 May 2006 and went into force on 30 June 2006.[24]

A legal inequality compared to heterosexual couples still existed with regards to children: the husband of the biological mother is automatically legally recognised as the father (by article 135 of the Civil Code), but this was not the case in a same-sex couple for the wife of the mother. To be recognised as the co-mother, she had to complete an adoption procedure. This accounted for the large majority of adoption cases in Belgium. The Di Rupo Government promised to fix this, and in 2014, as the Netherlands had recently passed similar legislation, LGBT organisations pressured the Government about their promise. Subsequently, legislators worked to agree on a solution.[25] A bill to this end was approved by the Senate on 3 April 2014 on a 48–2 vote (with one abstention), and by the Chamber of Representatives on 23 April on a 114–10 vote (with one abstention). The bill received royal assent on 5 May and went into effect on 1 January 2015.

Since this change, female same-sex couples are treated equally to heterosexual couples: the co-mother married to the mother is automatically recognised as a parent, and an unmarried partner can formally recognise the child at the civil registry. An equivalent solution for male same-sex couples has not been agreed upon, due to the controversy surrounding surrogacy.


A same-sex marriage in an Old Catholic Church, Wallonia

According to the Belgian Official Journal, approximately 300 same-sex couples were married between June 2003 and April 2004 (245 in 2003 and 55 in 2004). This constituted 1.2 percent of the total number of marriages in Belgium during that period. Two-thirds of the couples were male and one-third female. On 22 July 2005, the Belgian Government announced that a total of 2,442 same-sex marriages had taken place in the country since the extension of marriage rights two years earlier.[26] The following table summarizes the number of people in same-sex marriages.[27][28]

Year Men Women Total Share among
all marriages
2004 1,244 894 2,138 2.47%
2005 1,160 894 2,054 2.38%
2006 1,191 1,057 2,248 2.51%
2007 1,189 1,111 2,300 2.52%
2008 1,148 1,035 2,183 2.39%
2009 1,133 894 2,027 2.46%
2010 1,062 1,102 2,164 2.57%
2011 1,108 1,033 2,141 2.61%
2012 1,086 1,017 2,103 2.49%
2013 988 940 1,928 2.55%
2014 1,022 1,074 2,096 2.64%
2015 1,040 1,072 2,112 2.65%
2016 1,146 1,106 2,252 2.81%
2017 1,100 1,044 2,144 2.69%
2018 1,178 1,062 2,240 2.77%
Total 16,795 15,440 32,235 2.57%

When comparing per region:[29]

People in same-sex marriages (2004-2018) Number of (all)
marriages (2004-2018)
(1 January 2015)
Men Women Total
Flemish Region 10,376 (61.8%) 11,018 (71.4%) 21,394 (66.4%) 397,133 (59.5%) 6,444,127 (57.5%)
Brussels Region 3,109 (18.5%) 1,148 (7.4%) 4,257 (13.2%) 73,214 (11.0%) 1,175,173 (10.5%)
Walloon Region 3,310 (19.7%) 3,274 (21.2%) 6,584 (20.4%) 196,800 (29.5%) 3,589,744 (32.0%)
Belgium 16,795 (100%) 15,440 (100%) 32,235 (100%) 667,147 (100%) 11,209,044 (100%)

Consequently, the share of same-sex marriages among all marriages also differs significantly from region to region. Whereas almost 3% of marriages in both Brussels and Flanders are same-sex marriages, only 2.1% in Wallonia are. There is also a correlation between the share per province and the province's population density. The province with the lowest rate is Luxembourg (1.4%) and the one with the highest rate is Antwerp (3.1%), which are respectively the least and most populous and the least and most densely populated provinces.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

The 2006 Eurobarometer found that 62% of Belgian respondents thought that same-sex marriages should be allowed in Europe.[30]

A 2008 survey by Delta Lloyd Life found that 76% of Belgians supported same-sex marriage and 46% of Belgians thought that same-sex couples could raise children just as well as opposite-sex couples.[31][32]

A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 67% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 12% supported another form of recognition for same-sex couples.[33]

According to an Ifop poll conducted in May 2013, 71% of Belgians supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.[34]

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 77% of Belgians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 20% were against.[35]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted between April and August 2017 and published in May 2018, showed that 82% of Belgian people supported same-sex marriage, 10% were opposed and 8% didn't know or refused to answer.[36] When divided by religion, 88% of religiously unaffiliated people, 83% of non-practicing Christians and 66% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage.[37] Opposition was 9% among 18-34-year-olds.[38]

The 2019 Eurobarometer found that 82% of Belgians thought same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 17% were against.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dutch: Wet tot invoering van de wettelijke samenwoning; French: Loi instaurant la cohabitation légale; German: Gesetz zur Einführung des gesetzlichen Zusammenwohnens
  2. ^ Dutch: Wetboek van internationaal privaatrecht; French: Code de droit international privé; German: Gesetzbuch über das internationale Privatrecht


  1. ^ (in French) "Cohabitation légale". StatBel (in French).
  2. ^ "Wetsvoorstel tot aanvulling van het Burgerlijk Wetboek door de opneming van het geslachtsverschil als huwelijksnorm". Belgian Senate.
  3. ^ "Wetsvoorstel tot aanvulling van het Burgerlijk Wetboek door de opneming van het geslachtsverschil als huwelijksnorm". Belgian Senate.
  4. ^ De brug naar de eenentwintigste eeuw - regeerakkoord / La voie vers le XXIème siècle - accord de gouvernement - 7 July 1999
  5. ^ "Major legal consequences of marriage, cohabitation and registered partnership for different-sex and same-sex partners in Belgium" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Aelvoet: 'huwelijk open voor holebi's'". De Standaard. 1 April 2001.
  7. ^ "Roos huwelijk nog niet bezegeld". De Standaard. 2 April 2001.
  8. ^ "Ministerraad maakt homohuwelijk mogelijk". Het Belang van Limburg. 22 June 2001.
  9. ^ "Raad van State geeft negatief advies over homohuwelijk". De Standaard. 30 November 2001.
  10. ^ "'Advies diametraal tegenover veranderde tijdsgeest'". De Standaard. 30 November 2001.
  11. ^ "Parlement moet spoed zetten achter homohuwelijk". De Standaard. 31 January 2002.
  12. ^ "Tijd dringt voor homohuwelijk". De Standaard. 10 July 2002.
  13. ^ "Maximale versie homohuwelijk opnieuw op tafel". De Standaard. 11 October 2002.
  14. ^ Legislative record of the same-sex marriage bill in Dutch and in French, by the Belgian Senate.
  15. ^ "Belgium to follow Holland on gay marriage". RTÉ News. 29 November 2002.
  16. ^ "Belgium legalizes gay marriage". UPI. 31 January 2003.
  17. ^ "Belgium approves same-sex marriage". PlanetOut. 30 January 2003. Archived from the original on 28 February 2006.
  18. ^ "Eerste "mannelijk" homohuwelijk in België in Kapellen". Gazet van Antwerpen. 13 June 2003.
  19. ^ "Klacht tegen homohuwelijk bij Arbitragehof". De Standaard. 6 November 2003.
  20. ^ "Arbitragehof verwerpt verzoek tot vernietiging homohuwelijk". De Standaard. 20 October 2004.
  21. ^ "Belgium backs gay adoption plans". BBC News. 2 December 2005.
  22. ^ "Belgium moves to allow gay adoption". Euronews. 2 December 2005.
  23. ^ "Belgium passes gay adoption law". BBC News. 21 April 2006.
  24. ^ Wetsontwerp tot wijziging van een aantal bepalingen van het Burgerlijk Wetboek, teneinde de adoptie door personen van hetzelfde geslacht mogelijk te maken, Senate
  25. ^ "Dra een oplossing voor lesbische meemoeders?". 4 January 2014.
  26. ^ "Belgium Reaches 2,500 Gay Marriages". 365Gay. 22 May 2005. Archived from the original on 6 July 2008. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  27. ^ "Moins de divorces, plus de mariages homosexuels en 2016".
  28. ^ "Mariages, Chiffres". Statbel (in French).
  29. ^ a b Based on 2004–2018 data from Statistics Belgium: same-sex marriages compared to all marriages.
  30. ^ "Eurobarometer 2006" (PDF). 2006.
  31. ^ "De Nationale Familie-enquête 'En hoe leeft u?'" (PDF) (in Dutch). Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  32. ^ "Familie-enquête 2008" (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  33. ^ "Same-Sex Marriage". Ipsos. 7–21 May 2013. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016.
  34. ^ "Enquête sur la droitisation des opinions publiques européennes". IFOP.
  35. ^ "Special Eurobarometer 437" (PDF).
  36. ^ Religion and society, Pew Research Center, 29 May 2018
  37. ^ Being Christian in Western Europe, Pew Research Center, 29 May 2018
  38. ^ Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues, Pew Research Center, 2017
  39. ^ "Eurobarometer on Discrimination 2019: The social acceptance of LGBTI people in the EU". TNS. European Commission. p. 2. Retrieved 23 September 2019.