At least 69 countries have anti-LGBTQ constitutional amendments or other laws banning queer couples from marrying. However, legal gray areas persist. Even if you live in a country where LGBTQ marriage is a foreign concept — virtual weddings make marriage legal. Courtly, an online wedding company based in Utah, helps couples from around the world get a legal US marriage license and certificate completely online.
Virtual weddings are not a new thing. The pandemic has opened an opportunity for many couples to get married via Zoom. Just take a look at the LGBTQ couples in Israel.
In Israel, family law denies the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community to marry within the country's borders. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli couples found a loophole—a virtual marriage. Many Israeli couples tied the knot online thanks to companies like Courtly and a Utah county that made it legal in 2020. Proving that no matter where you live, there are ways to marry your partner in a way that will protect your rights.
Why Do Many Countries Still Limit LGBTQIA+ Rights?
We are making progress towards marriage equality, but it is still not completely legal everywhere. For LGBTQIA+ couples abroad, the ruling on LGBTQ marriage also created a slew of legal challenges that remain unresolved. Especially in terms of religion.
What is the extent to which religious organizations can refuse to serve LGBTQIA+ people? How will this affect access to health care and other services? Where do anti-discrimination laws end and religious freedom begin? And what about those couples who want nothing more than to be able to share their lives without being judged for who they love?
Recent reports from the OutRight Action International show that more than half of all countries where LGBTQIA+ people live lack explicit anti-discrimination laws protecting them from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity—and even where these protections exist there is still widespread violence against LGBTQIA+ people because of their identities or relationships with others from marginalized backgrounds such as race/ethnicity or religion/beliefs, etc.
Despite the discriminatory laws in different counties, many have turned online to gain recognition for their LGBTQ relationships. The idea of virtual marriages has also penetrated the conservative marriage laws in China. Many LGBTQIA+ couples bypass their anti-gay legislation through virtual marriages.
Gay marriage and human rights
Through the lens of international human rights law, the right to marry is a basic right. According to the United Nations (U.N.), governments are required by human rights standards to end discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation in civil marriage and to grant marriage status to everyone.
There are many reasons why LGBTQ couples should receive equal treatment, regardless of religious belief. Human rights issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity are being addressed internationally. There are campaigns underway at both national and international levels to encourage governments around the world to ensure that all people have access to full human rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Is online marriage a workaround?
You may be wondering whether or not the online marriages of the couples in Israel and China are legal. Well, the answer is both yes and no. Both Israel and China don't recognize the Utah Zoom marriages as legal. They are considered single in their home country but married abroad.
Although both countries do not recognize these online marriages as valid, it is a strong symbolic gesture that these couples have chosen to continue with the marriage anyway. These marriage certificates will still be recognized in the 32 countries (and counting) that already legalized LGBTQ unions.
For many LGBTQ couples in Israel, this is still considered a historical win and a great budget saver as well. Before the pandemic, queer couples bypassed anti-gay laws by getting married abroad. All of this effort requires a hefty sum of money—travel expenses, paperwork, VISAs, and other fees.
When the pandemic gave rise to virtual marriages, LGBTQ couples from anywhere could go online and download their license from a country where gay marriage is legal. They no longer needed to travel overseas to legalize their love.
On Courtly, weddings conducted online are recognized by the American government. As long as there is an officiant in Utah conducting the ceremony online who can confirm the presence of the couple getting married, it is considered a legal US marriage. The couple does not even have to be in the same location. And the process for the marriage certification is the same as an in-person wedding.
LGBTQ couples who choose virtual ceremonies also have the option to have their marriage certificates signed by an apostille to certify their legitimacy to international governments.
LGBTQ Marriage Legalities Around the World
Marriage equality has been a hot topic for decades. A strong global movement has improved the decriminalization of the LGBTQIA+ community, proving that love truly wins.
When the United States Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ marriage was legal, it marked an important victory for marriage equality. However, America is not the first country to address marriage equality. Currently, 32 countries have legalized LGBTQ marriage nationally through legislation. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize the marriage of LGBTQ couples in 2000.
Canada is one of the most progressive countries in the world, and it's no surprise that its Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is a human right. The Canadian government then passed legislation to make this legalization a reality for all citizens.
Spain was the third country in the world to legalize the marriages of LGBTQ couples. The law's origins go back to 2005 when Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero created it with a parliamentary majority. In 2006, after being approved by both houses of parliament and signed into law by King Juan Carlos I (who is also head of state), it became effective across Spain on 1 January 2007.
Belgium is a great example of history-changing laws that respect the human rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and have created the blueprint that many other countries should follow. Unlike other countries, Belgium widened the scope of its marriage equality law. In 2006, the parliament also permitted queer couples to adopt children. At the same time, allowing LGBTQ couples to have the same tax and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples.
Unfortunately, not every LGBTQIA+ person lives in these amazing countries. In reality, at least 69 countries have laws criminalizing any form of gender expression or LGBTQ relations. These include Russia, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
In these countries, the LGBTQIA+ community is left struggling to survive in a world that has become even more unequal and violent towards them. That’s why virtual marriages are seen as a game-changer for many who do not live in LGBTQIA+ friendly countries. Because even without their home countries’ legal blessing, they still have a chance to get married.
Other ways countries recognize gay unions
In some countries, getting legally married is not the only way to get married. Civil unions are common for the LGBTQIA+ community living in countries with loose legislation on queer partnerships. Just like a traditional marriage, you can also have a ceremony for a civil union.
But LGBTQ couples who choose to have a civil union will still enjoy a marriage-like arrangement. Civil unions still grant these couples all the legal benefits of marriage except for joint ownership.
In fact, in many places around the world, LGBTQ couples can choose other types of legal unions:
- Domestic partnerships – allow the couples some rights but little else, which includes adoption and inheritance rights.
- Registered partnerships – a formal arrangement similar to marriages that requires an official declaration by both parties
- De facto marriages – cohabitation agreements, but legally married.
How to get married on Courtly
It may seem like there’s no way to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ people all over the globe, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up hope. After all, the fight for marriage equality is a long one, and many countries still don’t recognize LGBTQ unions at all. Access to marriage should be a basic human right, too.
Any couple of legal age, including LGBTQIA+ couples, can use Courtly to complete the full marriage process online from any location. In most cases, you can receive a legal marriage certificate in less than 48 hours.
This is how the process goes:
- Using a secure ID verification system, a concierge will assist you in obtaining your license. To ensure that everything is ready for your big day, Courtly will inspect everything for flaws and coordinate with the authorities.
- Choose a time and date, and Courtly will match you with a legally certified US officiant from the Courtly network.
- In the comfort of your own home (or any other location with a reliable internet connection), Courtly will host a simple virtual ceremony. You are also allowed to invite up to 200 people to join the ceremony online. The entire ceremony should only take a few minutes.
- Finally, you will receive a copy of your US marriage certificate online shortly after your online ceremony. A certified print copy is then shipped to you within the next few business days.
Thanks to the growing awareness of these issues and the support of the worldwide community, queer couples now have different options to celebrate their love. Virtual marriages have allowed the LGBTQIA+ community to live and love freely. Even if they’re a thousand miles apart.
- Couples marry online via State of Utah to beat lack of civil marriages in Israel. Times of Israel
- China's LGBT couples ‘wed' online as gay marriage push stalls. Bangkok Post
- OutRight Action International
- Non-Discrimination in Civil Marriage: Perspectives from International Human Rights Law and Practice
- Marriage Equality Around The World
- Gay Marriage Around the World