This briefing paper deals with when polygamous marriages might be legally recognised in England and Wales; immigration issues; social security benefits and pension entitlement.
Documents to download
LGBT+ rights and issues in Europe (849 KB , PDF)
This briefing covers LGBT+ rights and issues in countries that have joined the EU since 2004, countries seeking to join the EU, Russia and other former Soviet Union states, as well as Turkey. It also includes Europe-wide comparative data.
ILGA-Europe, an umbrella body of LGBT+ advocacy organisations in Europe and part of the wider International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ILGA-World network, produces an annual review of LGBT+ rights across Europe. This includes a ranking of 49 European countries based on their respective legal and policy practices for LGBT+ people.
With the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina (22nd) and Estonia (23rd) the countries covered in this briefing feature in the bottom half of the ILGA-Europe rankings.
The bottom four countries: Russia, Armenia, Turkey, and (bottom-placed) Azerbaijan, are covered in this briefing. These all score under 10% in ILGA Europe’s ranking calculations, based on assessing a range of laws and policies relating to LGBT+ people. According to ILGA Europe, in countries scoring under 10% there are gross violations of human rights for LGBT+ people.
Also included in this briefing are the lowest ranking EU country, Poland (ranked 43rd in Europe), as well as Latvia (41st and second lowest in the EU), Ukraine (39th), Lithuania (34th), Georgia (32nd), Hungary (28th) and Albania (27th).
Protections against discrimination and hate crime
In all European countries, same-sex relations are legal. The decriminalisation of homosexual activity was fairly recent in former Soviet Union states, coming after the latter’s demise in the 1990s. However, protections for LGBT+ people are still fairly minimal in many of these states.
In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey there are no protections against discrimination or hate crime against LGBT+ people. Protections are also limited in Ukraine, although in the case of the latter there is protection against employment discrimination and legislation on hate crime has been discussed. ILGA-Europe groups these countries, as well as Latvia and Poland, among the 11 out of 48 countries in Europe lacking broad protections for LGBT+ people.
As with other Member States, Latvia and Poland are obliged by EU law to have prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment matters. Ukraine was also obliged to align its anti-discrimination employment law (PDF) with that of the EU under the terms of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2014.
Proposed EU legislation on equal treatment protecting LGBT+ people more broadly has not as yet been adopted. However, Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and was referred to in the EU legal action against Hungary in 2021 (see below).
None of the countries covered in this briefing have legislated to enable same-sex marriage. Two, Estonia and Hungary, allow same-sex civil unions. Overall, 16 European countries allow same-sex marriage, and 23 allow civil unions. None of the countries covered in this briefing feature among the 17 European countries that allow same-sex couples to adopt children.
Several countries have a constitutional stipulation that marriage should be between a man and a woman. These include Hungary, Lithuania and Poland. Russia and Latvia amended their constitutions to include such a clause in 2020. Hungary also amended its constitution in 2020 to make clear that the parents of a child should be a man and a woman.
The situation for LGBT+ people in some countries has deteriorated in several countries in recent years.
As well as constitutional amendments to prohibit same-sex marriage, some countries have introduced “propaganda” laws to outlaw discussions in schools of LGBT+ issues or the sharing of information or media content to minors depicting LGBT+ people in a positive way. Russia introduced such a law in 2013, as did Hungary in 2021. Lithuania also has similar legislation, but it is not strictly implemented. Latvia adopted legislation in 2016 to ensure teaching in schools provided “moral instruction” on traditional conceptions of family and marriage.
Russia introduced a “foreign agents” law in 2012 which has been used to curtail the activities of LGBT+ organisations. In Turkey, numerous LGBT+ events have been prevented from taking place, although the government says that no systematic ban is in place.
Human rights organisations have expressed concerns about the treatment of LGBT+ people in several countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. The role of law enforcement authorities in being complicit in violence or failing to properly investigate hate crimes against LGBT+ people in some of these countries has also been raised.
Developments in the EU
Human rights organisations have also expressed concerns about the worsening climate for LGBT+ people in some EU countries and the role of government politicians in intensifying anti-LGBT+ discourse.
Since 2020, the Hungarian Government has ended legal recognitions for trans people, restricted adoption to married (heterosexual) couples only, and brought in a “protection of minors” law prohibiting the sharing of information with children that promotes homosexuality or gender changes. It is also planning a referendum on the “protection of minors” issue.
In Poland, governing politicians have presented LGBT+ people as a threat to the country and anti-LGBT declarations have been adopted by several local authorities. Close to 100 municipalities declared themselves LGBT-free zones from 2019 to 2021, although several withdrew these declarations in 2021, when faced with a loss of EU funding.
The EU launched legal action against Poland and Hungary in 2021, with reference to the LGBT-free zones in Poland and the “protection of minors” law in Hungary.
UK Government and global LGBT+ rights
Successive governments have said that the promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT+ people internationally is a priority.
The UK Government had planned to host the international conference, Safe to Be Me, in June 2022 to bring together countries, businesses and international civil society organisations to address global LGBT+ inclusion.
However, following the Government’s decision to introduce a ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people but not for transgender people in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, many UK charities withdrew from attending. The Government subsequently announced it would cancel the June 2022 conference.
We use the term LGBT+ in this briefing (except when quoting someone else’s words). This refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The ‘+’ symbol is used to include people who do not identify with typical binary notions of male and female, or who decide to identify themselves using other categories to describe their gender identity or sexuality, such as non-binary or queer. In the countries we focus on, the legislation is largely around same sex sexual activity rather than gender identity. Many of the organisations cited in this briefing use LGBTI, with the I referring to intersex.
Documents to download
LGBT+ rights and issues in Europe (849 KB , PDF)
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