Italy is the only major western European country that does not recognise any form of same-sex union. However, this could change when the Italian Senate votes on Thursday on a bill which, if passed, would allow for same-sex civil unions for the first time.
Legal recognition of same-sex partnerships is far from uniform across Europe.
Even within the EU laws differ significantly. The bloc’s website describes the differences between the 28 member states as “huge”.
Denmark was the first country in the world to give legal recognition to same-sex couples, who could register as domestic partners from 1989.
In the 1990s, various forms of civil unions were introduced in Norway (1993), Sweden (1995), Iceland (1996) and France (1999). Belgium offered limited rights to same-sex couples through registered partnerships from 1998 onwards.
In Germany civil partnerships have been in place since 2001. However, Europe’s largest economy has yet to introduce equal marriage.
Other countries that have opted for civil partnership arrangements include the Czech Republic (where they were introduced in 2006), Switzerland (2007), Hungary (2009) and Austria (2010). After the introduction of civil partnerships in Andorra, Malta and Croatia in 2014, comparable unions were introduced in Greece and Cyprus last year.
At the turn of the millennium the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, giving same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce and adopt children. Equal marriage legislation followed in Belgium in 2003 and Spain in 2005. Norway and Sweden both legalised same-sex marriage in 2009.
After a review by its constitutional court, Portugal followed suit in 2010. Later that year Iceland introduced same-sex marriage legislation.
In June 2012 it was the turn of Denmark, which passed a bill legalising gay marriage 23 years after it became the first country in the world to legally recognise same-sex couples. Denmark had also enacted a law in 2010 allowing gay couples in registered partnerships to adopt children.
In France, a court in 2013 rejected a challenge brought by the centre-right UMP party, which has since rebranded itself as Les Républicains, paving the way for the legalisation of equal marriage while also extending adoption rights to gay and lesbian couples.
The first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in March 2014. Same-sex marriage came into effect in Scotland later that year, with the country’s first same-sex marriage ceremoniestaking place on New Year’s Eve.
Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK not to have introduced same-sex marriage after a vote in April 2014. However, civil partnerships are permitted and about 100 such unions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since legislation came into effect in December 2005.
Luxembourg legalised same-sex marriage on 1 January 2015, while Ireland became the first country to do so through a popular vote after a referendum on the issue last May.
In Finland same-sex marriage is due to come into effect in early 2017.