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11 Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage is Legal

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Kimberly White/Corbis

This article originally appeared in May 2012.

On Tuesday, North Carolina voted to amend their constitution making gay marriage illegal. In response, on Wednesday President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage. It will probably be a long time before anything is decided here. But eleven other countries have already legalized gay marriage. Here are their stories.

1. The Netherlands

In 1996, 15 years after gay activists brought the issue to the forefront in the early 1980s, the Dutch Parliament created a special commission to look into what effect, if any, making gay marriage legal would have on the country. Four years later legislation was passed making same-sex marriages legal starting April 1, 2001. Four couples, six men and two women, were married at midnight on that date by the Mayor of Amsterdam. The women wore classic wedding dresses with long trains, two of the male couples wore suits, and the third wore leather.

Ten years later, Senator Hannie van Leeuwen, who had fought hard against legalization, said, “At the time I opposed same-sex marriage, I was led by fear. Having seen so many happy gay and lesbian couples getting married, I realize I was wrong."

2. Belgium

One year after the Netherlands’ first weddings, a bill was put forward for similar legislation in the Belgian Senate. At the time same-sex couples in the country had some rights thanks to a 1998 law allowing registered cohabitation. On June 1, 2003 the first legal gay marriages were performed.

One of those first couples was Alain De Jonge and Olivier Pierret. At their reception, Olivier’s stoic 74-year-old father gave an unplanned speech, saying, “You’ve envisaged and built your life along a different emotional track from that of your parents. That's your right and above all your choice, and I respect and accept it with sincerity and joy.”

3. Spain

On June 8, 1901, Elisa Sanchez Loriga, dressed as a man and using a male alias, married her girlfriend Marcela Gracia Ibeas. Once the truth was discovered (and published in two newspapers) the women lost their jobs, were excommunicated, and had to flee the country in order to escape arrest. Despite all this their marriage was never annulled, making theirs the first recorded gay marriage in Spain’s history.

On June 30, 2005, the lower house of the Spanish Parliament overrode the Senate’s rejection and made same-sex marriage legal. The bill was heavily opposed by the Catholic Church, but despite 80% of Spaniards identifying as Catholics, polls showed 62% of the population was in favor of the legislation.

4. Canada

By the time Parliament legalized gay marriage on July 20, 2005, almost all of Canada’s provinces and territories had already legalized it themselves. But Canada’s legalization process has not been without its problems. After passing the legislation, Canada issued more than 15,000 marriage licenses to foreign same-sex couples who lived in the country or traveled there to get married. What these couples were not told was that the law said their marriage was only valid in Canada if same-sex unions were legal in their home country, although they were issued Canadian marriage licenses regardless of where they were from. In January of this year, an Anglo-American couple who got married there tried to get divorced in Canada, only to be told by the judge that their marriage had never existed. After that, more than 5,000 such couples found out they had never really been married in the eyes of the law.

5. South Africa

In some African countries, you can be sentenced to death or life in prison simply for being gay. But South Africa is different, and the rights afforded to gays in that country since November 30, 2006, can be directly traced back to the end of apartheid. The 1997 Constitution made almost any form of discrimination illegal, including that based on sexual orientation. In 2005, the Supreme Court found that the definition of marriage unfairly excluded same-sex partnerships and gave the Parliament one year to pass the necessary legislation.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the connection between the end of apartheid and the legalization of same-sex marriage than one interaction between a black woman from the townships and a middle-class white man for whom she was preparing a marriage license. When he said he “didn’t want to make a fuss” and that there would be no guests and no rings, the woman asked, “Do you think you are a second-class citizen because you are gay? You have full rights in this new South Africa. You have the right to make a fuss.”

6. Norway

In 1993, Norway became only the second country, after Denmark, to recognize “registered partnerships” between same-sex couples. Starting in 2004, same-sex marriage became a topic of discussion in Parliament, although no legislation for full marriage status was passed until June 17, 2008, going into effect on the first day of 2009.

The main party against same-sex marriage, the Christian Democrats, is finally coming around to the idea some three years later. Just this week they signaled a major shift to the left in the party’s position on gay marriage, saying that all couples in Norway should be allowed to get married in non-religious ceremonies, but that the decision to marry any couple in a religious ceremony should still be left to the individual church.

7. Sweden

Scandinavia is one of the most liberal parts of the world, and 71% of the population of Sweden was in favor of same-sex marriage replacing the registered partnerships that had been legal since 1995. Legislation was passed in May 2008, and five months later the Lutheran Church of Sweden announced its full support of gay marriage.

8. Portugal

When neighboring Spain passed their legislation in 2008, campaigners in Portugal pushed even harder for same-sex marriage, and wanting to keep up with their neighbor most likely played a large part in Portugal legalization. There are very few other obvious reasons why this largely Catholic and traditional nation accepted the idea so quickly. Homosexuality was a crime until 1982. Single women still cannot adopt or receive any fertility treatments. In 2009, support for gay marriage was at only around 40%. But when Prime Minster Jose Socrates was running for re-election in 2009, he made legalizing same-sex marriage part of his platform, reportedly after seeing the movie Milk and remembering a childhood friend who was gay. His legislation passed and the law went into effect June 5, 2010.

9. Iceland

In Iceland, not a single member of Parliament voted no on the country’s same-sex marriage legislation. That might have had something to do with the fact that the most powerful person in the country would be affected by the outcome. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir had her registered partnership changed to a marriage on June 27, 2010, the same day the legislation went into effect.

10. Argentina

This South American country is the most recent to legalize same-sex marriage; it did so on July 22, 2010. It is also the third predominantly Catholic country on this list. Considering the Church’s views on gay marriage and homosexuality in general this is rather surprising. But the people who study this sort of thing have a theory: Portugal, Spain, and Argentina were all under dictatorship until well into the second half of the 20th century. The older generations, which in countries like the USA generally tend to be against same-sex marriage, remember what it is like to be persecuted for things you can’t control.

11. Mexico

OK, Mexico gets an asterisk by it when it comes to gay marriage. The reason Mexico isn’t usually listed with the other ten is because since December 21, 2009, gay marriages can be performed in the capital, Mexico City — but only in that city.

In the US, gay marriage is legal in Washington D.C., but if a gay couple moves to Texas, their marriage would not be recognized. In Mexico, any couple can get married in the capital and that marriage is legal throughout the country. Individual states can now decide if they want to perform their own same-sex marriages. Quintana Roo, where holiday and beach wedding hot spot Cancun is located, is currently working on its own legislation.

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Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.


Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?


This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.


An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.


Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.


Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.


Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.


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