This Day in the Law
October 1

Denmark Becomes First Country to Legalize Same-Sex Unions (1989)

On October 1, 1989, Denmark became the first modern country to legally recognize same-sex unions. In particular, the Danish Parliament, called the Folketinget, officially recognized registered partnerships between individuals of the same sex.

The Danish Parliament called the law protecting same-sex unions the “Danish Registered Partnership Act” and the law was the first of its kind in the world. The law provided nearly all the same benefits as standard marriages, but included certain exceptions. For example, three main exceptions included that registered partners could not: (i) adopt children, unless one of the partners adopted the biological children of the other partner, (ii) have joint custody of a child, except by adoption; or (iii) be protected by laws which explicitly banned or excluded them from such protections.

On October 1, 1989, the same day that Denmark passed the new same-sex law, the world’s first legally recognized gay couple registered in Copenhagen, Denmark. Shortly thereafter, other countries followed the lead of Denmark. Between 1993 and 1996, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Greenland passed similar laws protecting same-sex unions.

Upon last check, other countries that have passed similar laws protecting same-sex partnerships include: Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Iceland, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Sweden, South Africa, a few provinces and a territory in Canada, and multiple states in the United States.

As of 2000, there were around 2,000 registered same-sex partners in Denmark with approximately 250 same-sex couples registering per year.