Since 1989, same-sex couples in Europe and North America have begun to receive many or all of the rights and responsibilities of legal marriage. To date, nine European countries give same-sex couples either the right to marry (the Netherlands and Belgium) or to form a legal partner relationship (registered partnerships in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland; pactes civil de solidarite in France; and life partnerships in Germany). Several Canadian provinces and territories now extend such rights, with federal legislation under active consideration. In the United States, Massachusetts grants same-sex couples the right to marry. California, Vermont and Connecticut provide almost all of the state-granted rights and responsibilities of marriage. New Jersey, Maine, and Hawaii provide same-sex couples with a smaller package of such rights. In several other countries and states, marriage and partnership rights legislation is scheduled to go into effect (the United Kingdom and New Zealand), or appear likely to be enacted (Spain, Luxembourg, and Switzerland). This remarkable movement toward legal equality for gay and lesbian couples raises many intriguing questions. In particular, it forces us to wonder why some countries have moved so clearly toward equality while others have not. This question has both academic and political significance.

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