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Legalising homosexuality: Germany did it 25 years ago - what about other European countries?

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Legalising homosexuality: Germany did it 25 years ago - what about other European countries?
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Reuters
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This week Germany celebrated legalising homosexuality twenty-five years ago.

Until June 11, 1994, it was still considered a crime in Germany even though since 1969 homosexuals were no longer prosecuted for “fornication”.

Eighteen years ago, it became legal for same-sex couples in Germany to register their partnership and since 2015, people in a partnership can adopt their partner’s child. Two years later, same-sex marriage became legal (Eheöffnungsgesetz).

Compared to many other European countries, Germany was quite late to legalise homosexuality.

Euronews takes a look at homosexuality laws across Europe.

Austria

Until 1971 homosexuality was punishable in Austria and until 2002 there were still minimum age limits for homosexual relationships in the Austrian penal code (different from heterosexual relationships). The code allowed heterosexual partnerships to start at the age of 14, however, homosexual relationships were only considered legal from the age of 18 onwards.

This section in the code only concerned male same-sex couples.

The Constitutional Court pleaded for the paragraph to be repealed and set a deadline for Parliament until 2003. This eventually led to the end of discrimination against homosexuals.

The country has allowed registered partnerships (Eingetragene Partnerschaft) since January 1, 2010, and same-sex marriage for all couples became legal on January 1, 2019.

Switzerland

Homosexuality has been legal in Switzerland since 1942. The minimum legal age of 20 for homosexual relationships (as opposed to 16 for heterosexual relationships) was lifted at the end of 1990.

Same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Switzerland. Since 2007, same-sex couples can opt to register their partnership and enjoy many of the same rights and obligations as married couples.

However, they do not allow the adoption of children or allow couples to have children using artificial insemination.

People in a registered partnership can, however, adopt their partner’s child from a previous relationship.

Italy

Thanks to the criminal code by Justice Minister Giuseppe Zanardelli — the so-called Zanardelli Code — homosexuality was decriminalised in 1889. Since then, homosexuality has been considered a “sin against religion and privacy” as long as it did not involve violence or public scandals. But homosexuality itself is not prosecuted.

But what might seem like a liberal code at first glance was, in fact, a strategy to keep homosexuality away from public life. Although there was no criminal repression against homosexuality, same-sex couples were not persecuted as long as they kept their private life behind closed doors.

The 1930’s Rocco code reinforced this approach. The legal text read: “It will not be punished because the vicious vice of homosexuality in Italy is not so widespread that it requires legal intervention.”

This approach of turning a blind eye is still widespread today. In several African countries, such as Uganda, heads of state deny that there are homosexuals in their country even though they still persecute them.

France

The French law of August 4, 1982, put an end to the prohibition of homosexual relations between an adult and a minor over fifteen years of age — a measure taken by the Vichy regime in 1942.

And since 1981, France no longer classifies homosexuality as a mental illness (while WHO did not remove it from its list until May 1993).

However, homosexuality was never officially banned in France. Until 1791, sodomy was banned, but not explicitly homosexual relationships. However, the prohibition of sodomy was used to sentence homosexuals to death and burn them at the stake.

In 2013, same-sex marriage and adoption became legal in France.

Spain

In Spain, homosexuality was no longer considered a criminal offence from 1978 onwards.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2005 in Spain — making it one of the first European countries, along with Belgium (2003) and the Netherlands (2000), to legalise same-sex marriage.

UK

The pioneers in LGBT rights in the UK have been England and Wales who legalised homosexuality in 1967 (Sexual Offences Act 1967).

Homosexual acts in Scotland were decriminalised by the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 1980, which took effect on February 1 1981.

In Northern Ireland, homosexuality was legalised in 1982 (Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982).

Russia

Homosexuality was decriminalised after the Russian revolution in the early 1920s.

However, under Stalin, homosexuality became punishable again in 1937.

It was not until 1993 that the law was repealed and homosexuality decriminalised.

In 2013, the State Duma passed a law banning any form of “gay propaganda”. The official title of the law is "The Russian federal law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values".

Greece

In Greece homosexuality has not been a criminal offence since 1951. A specific article within the law specifically punishing sex between men in cases of prostitution or if one of the partners was a minor was abolished in 2015.

That same year, same-sex unions became legal.

Hungary

In Hungary, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1961. The Austrian Emperor Josef II, who was also the ruler of Hungary, lifted the death penalty for homosexuals in 1787.

However, same-sex couples in Hungary cannot get married. In 2012, marriage was defined in the Hungarian constitution as between a man and a woman.

Amendments have so far been unsuccessful.