LGBT Rights in Europe

The gains made for LGBT rights in Europe over the last 50 years are on shaky ground. According to ILGA-Europe, the legal situation is worsening in many countries.

The ECJ could rule that LGBT equality is one of the values enshrined in the European Treaties. This would be a more activist ruling, going beyond established case law.


Many French people are not aware that the country was among the first to pass a law legalising same-sex marriage. On 23 April, the National Assembly voted in favour of the law, and on 29 May it came into effect. Vincent Autin, a rights activist, and his partner Claude Boileau celebrated the very first wedding under this new law in Montpellier.

Europe still has a long way to go in the fight against homophobia, but glimmers of hope are beginning to emerge. For example, Amsterdam is now ranked the world’s most queer-friendly city and the European Union has introduced antidiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

But there is also a lot of work to be done, particularly in countries like Poland and Hungary. These countries have the lowest rankings on our Rainbow Map, and their governments rely on moralistic and pathological discourse to justify discrimination against LGBT people.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, gay men and lesbians found new freedom in East Germany. Disillusioned with the government, some activists allied themselves with the Protestant church, which was East Germany’s only genuinely independent institution and home to many people critical of the regime. These church-affiliated groups began meeting unauthorized in private, eventually finding a semipermanent (if illicit) home in the basement of a furniture museum.

Eventually, Stasi officials began to take notice of this movement. In an attempt to stem the tide of activism, they decided that they would have to actually address homosexuals’ concerns.

The result was a series of genuinely radical changes in the country. State-censored newspapers began publishing dozens of stories about gay men and lesbians, and periodicals began to allow personal ads for homosexuals seeking partners. This set the stage for a massive shift in German attitudes toward same-sex relationships, and helped give rise to Europe’s first political group dedicated to promoting gay rights.


Known as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, Switzerland has long had a reputation for being tolerant and accepting. But in recent years, LGBT people have been subjected to physical attacks and online abuse. Some even face discrimination when it comes to employment and adoption.

The Swiss government and most political parties have supported an amendment to the country’s anti-discrimination laws that will penalize public homophobia. Opponents, however, argued that such an extension would stifle freedom of expression.

The amendment will make it illegal to incite hatred or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But it will not punish arguments that are held in private or for religious reasons. Critics say the measure is needed to protect Switzerland’s LGBT population from violence and intimidation. In addition, it will help prevent retaliation against individuals for their sexual orientation and gender identity.


The Constitution states that equal rights based on different personal grounds are protected, but there is no mention of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Assembly passed a law to give same-sex couples all marriage rights except joint adoption and in vitro fertilisation, which was rejected in a referendum in March 2016.

Slovenian gay rights groups Legebitra and Zavod Open have found that discrimination against LGBTI people persists in more than 70 laws. In a recent survey, 13% of LGBTI people felt discriminated against by education personnel.

In April, Luxembourg’s gay Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, used the dais in the European Parliament to speak out for LGBTQ rights in Europe and chastise Hungary for trying to curtail discussion of homosexuality in schools and media. His comments highlighted the deep cultural divide in the EU, with western member states embracing gay rights and newer central and eastern countries resisting them.


The past two decades have seen measurable progress toward LGBT rights in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. These gains are largely due to pressure from the EU and activism by civil society organizations. However, the emergence of nationalist political forces in these countries has created domestic constraints on human rights norm diffusion. These forces have framed homosexuality as a threat to the family and the nation, earning them votes from conservative constituencies.

Despite these gains, homophobia remains prevalent in Croatian society. The Zakon o ravnopravnosti spolova (Gender Equality Act) prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and encourages the removal of gender stereotypes from school textbooks and media reporting. But the Church holds a powerful place in society and has influence over the treatment of homosexuals. (GlobalGayz Dec. 2010; Passport Oct. 2009)

LGBT rights NGOs in Croatia report that it is not easy to be open about one’s sexual orientation. A representative from the Center for LGBT Equality reported that LGBT NGOs have few resources available to combat discrimination in the courts, with only 10 employees, including five associates, dedicated to this work.


Sarah is an independent journalist and single woman traveler who writes for the Couple of Men blog. She has travelled to Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, the Republic of Georgia, Lebanon and Russia.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Moldova in 1995, the country still ranks 49th out of 49 European states on the Rainbow Index and faces persistent discrimination against its LGBT citizens (ILGA-Europe May 2022).

Despite this, a number of initiatives by local NGOs and activists have matched a savvy legal offensive with gentler tactics to ease LGBT rights into public debate. A recent example is Egali, the Eastern Europe affiliate of It Gets Better, a U.S.-based campaign that aims to prevent suicide among LGBT youth. The project enables young people to talk openly about their own experiences and to hear from older LGBT community members. The video project has been so successful that it will be repeated in 2022.