LGBT rights in Belgium

Location of Belgium (dark green)

– in Europe (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union (light green)  –  [Legend]

StatusLegal since 1795,
equal age of consent
Gender identityTransgender persons allowed to change legal gender without surgery
MilitaryLGBT people allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protectionsSexual orientation and gender identity protections (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsStatutory cohabitation since 2000
Same-sex marriage since 2003
AdoptionSame-sex couples have equal adoption rights as opposite-sex couples since 2006

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Belgium are seen as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world.[1] Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1795, with an equal age of consent, except from 1965 until 1985. After granting same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits in 2000, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003. Same-sex adoption was fully legalised in 2006 and was equalised with that of heterosexual adoption. Lesbian couples can get access to IVF as well. Discrimination protections based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public and private accommodations were enacted in 2003 and on gender identity and expression in 2014. Transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender since 2007, though under certain circumstances, which were repealed in 2018.

Belgium has frequently been officially referred to as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world,[2] with recent polls indicating that the majority of Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption rights. The previous Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, is an openly gay man and was one of the only few head of states in the world to identify as LGBT. Pascal Smet, the former Flemish Minister of Education (in the Peeters II Government) and current Brussels Minister of Mobility, is also openly gay.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Prior to 1795, the modern borders of the Kingdom of Belgium existed mostly within the Holy Roman Empire and was divided between the Austrian Netherlands, the Duchy of Bouillon, and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, along with the Kingdom of France and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1795 (when the country was a French possession).[3] Article 372 of the Penal Code sets the age of consent to 16, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender. This was briefly increased to 18 for same-sex sexual activity between 1965 and 1985 by the addition and later repeal of article 372bis to the Penal Code. It was inserted by an amendment of MP Freddy Terwagne (d) to the law of 8 April 1965 on youth protection. A bill submitted in June 1982 by MP Luc Van den Bossche to repeal the article was approved by the Chamber of Representatives on 13 May 1983. The Senate eventually concurred in June 1985; article 372bis was thus repealed by the law of 18 June 1985.[4][5]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Belgium became the second country to allow same-sex marriages in 2003 (after the Netherlands).[6] Same-sex couples have the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

Adoption and family planning[edit]

Same-sex couples have had the same rights as opposite-sex couples in adopting children since 2006.[7] Additionally, lesbian couples can get access to IVF.

A legal inequality compared to heterosexual couples still existed with regards to children: the husband of the biological mother was automatically legally recognised as the father (by article 135 of the Civil Code), but this was not the case in a same-sex couple for the wife of the mother. To be recognised as the co-mother, she had to complete an adoption procedure. This accounted for the large majority of adoption cases in Belgium. The Di Rupo Government promised to fix this, and in 2014, as the Netherlands recently passed similar legislation, LGBT organisations pressured the Government about their promise. Subsequently, legislators worked to agree on a solution.[8] A bill fixing this inequality was approved by the Senate on 3 April 2014 on a 48–2 vote (with one abstention), and by the Chamber of Representatives on 23 April on a 114–10 vote (with one abstention). The bill received royal assent on 5 May and went into effect on 1 January 2015.

Generally, adoption law is regulated at the federal level, whereas the adoption procedure is managed by the community governments. Between 2006 and 2014, 56 male same-sex couples and two female same-sex couples had domestically adopted a child in the Flemish Community (Flanders). In the same period, 12 children were domestically adopted in the French Community, giving a total of 70 LGBT domestic adoptions in Belgium in that period.[9]

Discrimination protections and hate crimes[edit]

ILGA-Europe at the 2018 Brussels Pride parade

The anti-discrimination law of 25 February 2003 included discrimination protections on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.[10] The law was replaced by a similar law in 2007, known as the Anti Discrimination Law 2007 (Dutch: Wet ter bestrijding van bepaalde vormen van discriminatie; French: Loi tendant à lutter contre certaines formes de discrimination; German: Gesetz zür Bekämpfung bestimmter Formen von Diskriminierung).[11]

The 2003 and 2007 anti-discrimination laws also establish a penalty-enhancement for crimes motivated by hate on the basis of, among others, sex and sexual orientation.

On 29 November 2013, the Federal Government approved an expansion of the anti-discrimination law to include gender identity and gender expression. It was approved by the Federal Parliament and received royal assent on 22 May 2014.[12][13][14]

On 22 December 2014, the jury of the court of assizes of Liège found four people guilty of the murder of Ihsane Jarfi (fr), motivated by homophobia. It was the first case in Belgium in which a crime was officially qualified as being motivated by hate on the basis of sexual orientation.[15]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

The Law of 10 May 2007 on transsexuality (Dutch: Wet van 10 mei 2007 betreffende de transseksualiteit; French: Loi du 10 mai 2007 relative à la transsexualité; German: Gesetz vom 10. Mai 2007 über die Transsexualität) grants Belgians the right to change their legal gender.[16] Prior to this, a gender change was only possible through a court judgment. Between 2002 and 2012, there was a yearly average of 31 men and 14 women who officially changed their legal gender, with an increase after the 2007 law came into in effect.[17] Conditions included that the person has a "constant and irreversible inner conviction to belong to the sex opposite to that mentioned in the birth certificate" and that "the physical body is adapted to the opposite sex as far as possible and justified from a medical point of view", meaning applicants were required to undergo sterilisation.

Plans to amend the law to remove this requirement were announced by the Michel Government in 2015,[18][19][20] passed by the Chamber of Representatives (and signed by King Philippe) in 2017,[21][22] and took effect on 1 January 2018.[23] Shortly after the law took effect in January 2018, LGBT rights organisations challenged it before the Constitutional Court, arguing that the binary choice (male or female) and the ability of changing one's sex only once, remain discriminatory.[24] In June 2019, the Constitutional Court of Belgium ruled that the law is unconstitutional and must therefore be amended. Currently, it is only possible to change gender on the identity card from male to female or vice versa, but according to the court, persons who are non-binary are excluded from this rule. The court held that an "X" sex option should be available. The Constitutional Court has asked the Belgian Federal Parliament to work on an arrangement that complies with the ruling, whether through the "creation of one or more additional categories" or the removal of gender from compulsory registration.[25][26][27][28]

In order to change legal sex, an adult person has to file an application with a statement that their legal sex is not corresponding with their gender identity. No surgery or other medical or psychological treatment or opinion is required. After filing an application, the applying person will be informed about the legal consequences of a requested change. The applicant has to renew their intent to have their legal sex changed within three months of application and to declare that they are aware of the legal consequences of a change. Minors between 12 and 16 have the possibility to change their first name, but not sex. Minors aged 16 and 17 have the possibility to apply for sex change with parental consent and a psychological opinion confirming that their decision has been taken freely and without any outside pressure.[29][30][31][32]

Many Belgian hospitals, the Ghent University Hospital (UZ Gent) among them, are known for their specialisation in sex reassignment surgery. Many French transgender people go there due to a lack of accepting hospitals in France.[33]

Military service[edit]

LGBT people are not banned from military service.

Blood donation[edit]

Since 2017, men who have sex with men have been allowed to donate blood, provided they haven't had sex for at least 12 months.[34]

The gay male blood donor controversy is a political issue, shared by political parties, health representatives and LGBT associations.[35][36][37][38]

In 2016, Minister of Health Maggie De Block promised to re-evaluate the law using the newest scientific discoveries. In November 2016, she announced the policy will be changed in 2017, making it possible for gay males to donate blood if they haven't had sex for at least 12 months.[39] On 28 April 2017, the Council of Ministers approved a bill that changes the conditions for blood donations, allowing men to donate blood if they have not had sex with other men for at least 12 months.

In June 2019, it was reported that Belgium bans transgender individuals from donating blood.[40]

Living conditions[edit]

LGBT people are generally well socially accepted in Belgium. There is a strong gay community, with numerous gay clubs. A 2006 European Union member poll showed 62% of Belgians supported same-sex marriage extension to the whole Europe.[41] The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 77% of Belgians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 20% were against.[42]


N-VA at the Antwerp Pride 2018 with the slogan "free and safe in [our] city"

LGBT rights are generally supported by the Government and the main political parties, with the exception of the right-wing Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang, formerly Flemish Block). When voting on the same-sex marriage bill, the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), the Christian People's Party, (CVP/CD&V) the Socialist Party (PS), the Socialist Party (sp.a), Ecolo, Agalev and the People's Union voted generally in favour except for several abstentions, whereas the Flemish Block and the National Front voted against, the Christian Social Party (CSP/cdH) voted against with several abstentions and the Reformist Movement (MR) voted dividedly.

Several politicians are openly gay, two notable examples being the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo (PS) and the former Flemish Minister for Education (in the Peeters II Government), Pascal Smet (sp.a).[43] LGBT members of the Flemish Parliament are, among others, Piet De Bruyn (N-VA), Lorin Parys (N-VA) and Wellen Mayor Els Robeyns (sp.a).

On 2 April 2014, the Flemish Parliament approved 96–0 (with 15 abstentions) a resolution introduced by MP Piet De Bruyn (N-VA) and supported by all political parties except Flemish Interest, calling for the Government to take measures to support and advance the acceptance of transgender people in society.[44]

In the 2014 European Parliament election, UZ Gent gynaecologist Petra De Sutter was second on the list of Green candidates, marking it the first time a Belgian transgender person was a candidate for the EU Parliament.[45] She was subsequently appointed senator.

Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, some criticised N-VA, the largest Flemish/Belgian party, joining the European Conservatives and Reformists parliamentary group, which contains several right-wing homophobic parties. However, N-VA asserted they would vote in favour of LGBT rights, and argued that this was an opportunity to change opinions of other parties in that group.[46]


Homosexuality is widely accepted in the media. Popular TV series such as Thuis feature or featured gay characters.

The first TV personality to publicly come out as gay was singer Will Ferdy (nl) in 1970, when the topic was still taboo.[47]

In 2018, journalist Boudewijn Van Spilbeeck came out as transgender, changing her name to Bo Van Spilbeeck (nl). This received widespread media coverage.[48]

LGBT rights movement in Belgium[edit]

The Brussels Stock Exchange building decorated with rainbow banners and flags during Brussels Pride 2015

Belgian gay rights activists are grouped into several organisations. Several of these are part of Çavaria,[49] and Wel Jong Niet Hetero (Dutch for "Young But Not Straight"),[50] two associations of Dutch-speaking LGBT organisations in the Flemish and Brussels regions of Belgium. The French-speaking counterpart in the Walloon and Brussels regions is the Federation des Associations Gayes et Lesbiennes.

Belgian gay rights activism is made most visible by means of the BLGP "Belgium Lesbian and Gay Pride" demonstration marches. The marches have been held annually in Belgium's capital Brussels since 1996, with similar events having been held intermittently in preceding years in both Brussels and other cities. While the marches have a festive character, they are also used to present the gay movement's political agenda in the form of a list of demands. The list was updated a number of times (in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2005) and has included demands for anti-discrimination laws, inclusion of gay relationships in high-school sex education and the right to adoption by same-sex parents.

Many of the activist's demands, including the more prominent ones such as recognition of same-sex marriage and adoption rights, have been met over the years, leading some to wonder whether the marches had become obsolete. They point out that this was reflected in dwindling participant numbers for the 2007 march, although the organisers contest that the number of participants actually declined. Others attribute any such decline to simply bad weather and the event not being as attractive as the gay pride marches in neighbouring countries. The 2007 event nevertheless still had a list of 17 demands to march for. Still, it can be taken as a sign of the almost complete equalisation of gay and straight rights in Belgium that the primary demand was a call to Belgian politicians to play a prominent role in establishing similar rights at the level of the European Union. Several members of almost all political parties also walked in the 2007 march and earlier marches, with the notable exception of the right-wing party Vlaams Belang.

In the 2007 march, some participants were seen with a banner "Thank you Verhofstadt!", in reference to the fact that many gay rights such as same-sex marriage in Belgium were realised by the first two governments of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (Open VLD), which respectively consisted of liberals, socialists and greens, and of liberals and socialists.

Prior to 1998, the marches were held under the name "Roze Zaterdag – Samedi Rose" ("Pink Saturday"). The name was adopted for the first ever Belgian demonstration march for gay rights in 1979, taken from the same-named series of Dutch marches which were first held the year before. The 1979 march was organised on 5 May in Brussels, with subsequent marches the next two years in respectively Antwerp and Brussels again. After this first short series of annual events, it was only in 1990 that the decision was made to again organise the marches regularly, starting anew on 5 May in Antwerp and then bi-annually in Ghent and again in Antwerp. The latter choice of city was motivated by what is known as "Black Sunday", when the right-wing party Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) scored a major electoral victory in Antwerp. Then in 1996, "Pink Saturday" was moved indefinitely to Brussels, and became an annual event. The next year, the list of demands was for the first time prominently displayed on 10 large banners carried by participants throughout the march. Finally, in 1998, the name of the march was changed to Belgian Lesbian and Gay Pride.

In 2013, Antwerp was the host city of the third World Outgames.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1795)
Equal age of consent Yes (Except between 1965–1985)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2003)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2003)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2003)
Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity Yes (Since 2014)
Same-sex marriage Yes (Since 2003)
Recognition of same-sex couples (e.g. unregistered cohabitation, life partnership) Yes (Since 2000)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2006)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2006)
Automatic parenthood on birth certificates for children of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2015)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2007)
Access to IVF for lesbian couples Yes (Since 2006)
Conversion therapy banned by law No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Banned for heterosexual couples as well)
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (Since 2017, 1 year deferral period)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rainbow Europe: Belgium
  2. ^ 13 Countries That Are More Gay Friendly Than America
  3. ^ State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults Archived 19 July 2013 at WebCite
  4. ^ (in Dutch) (in French) Strafwetboek / Code pénal
  5. ^ (in Dutch) Wetsvoorstel tot opheffing van de artikelen 372bis en 377, derde lid, van het Strafwetboek, Senate
  6. ^ Major legal consequences of marriage, cohabitation and registered partnership for different-sex and same-sex partners in Belgium
  7. ^ Belgium passes gay adoption law
  8. ^ "Dra een oplossing voor lesbische meemoeders?". 4 January 2014.
  9. ^ "58 binnenlandse adoptiekinderen naar holebigezin in Vlaanderen". ZIZO-Online. 5 August 2015.
  10. ^ 25 FEBRUARI 2003. - Wet ter bestrijding van discriminatie (...) / 25 FEVRIER 2003. - Loi tendant à lutter contre la discrimination (...)
  11. ^ Wet van 10 mei 2007 ter bestrijding van bepaalde vormen van discriminatie / Loi de 10 mai 2007 tendant à lutter contre certaines formes de discrimination
  12. ^ "Federale regering breidt antidiscriminatiewet uit met genderidentiteit en -expressie". ZIZO-Online. 29 November 2013. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Betere bescherming dankzij uitbreiding discriminatiewet naar genderidentiteit en genderexpressie". Federal Public Service Justice. 29 November 2013.
  14. ^ Wetsontwerp tot wijziging van de wet van 10 mei 2007 ter bestrijding van discriminatie tussen vrouwen en mannen met het oog op de uitbreiding ervan naar genderidentiteit en genderexpressie, Senate
  15. ^ "Daders eerste homofobe moord in België veroordeeld". De Standaard. 22 December 2014.
  16. ^ (Dutch) Wet van 10 mei 2007 betreffende de transseksualiteit; (French) Loi du 10 mai 2007 relative à la transsexualité
  17. ^ Transseksuele personen in België – 2012, Institute for the equality of women and men
  18. ^ "Staatssecretaris voor Gelijke Kansen Elke Sleurs wil af van medische eis in transgenderwet". ZIZO-Online. 13 January 2015.
  19. ^ "België schaft in 2018 medische eis voor transgenders af". ZiZo Online. 8 December 2016.
  20. ^ "It's soon to become easier to change sex". 8 December 2016.
  21. ^ Projet de loi réformant des régimes relatifs aux personnes transgenres en ce qui concerne la mention d'une modification de l'enregistrement du sexe dans les actes de l'état civil et ses effets
  22. ^ Loi réformant des régimes relatifs aux personnes transgenres en ce qui concerne la mention d'une modification de l'enregistrement du sexe dans les actes de l'état civil et ses effets
  23. ^ "Nouvelle loi transgenre: qu'est-ce qui change en 2018?". RTBF Info (in French). 22 December 2017.
  24. ^ "Çavaria trekt naar Grondwettelijk Hof voor optimalisering transgenderwet". ZiZo-Online. 10 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Transgenderwet deels vernietigd". (in Dutch). 19 June 2019.
  26. ^ "Transgenderwet wordt deels vernietigd: naast M en V, binnenkort ook X op identiteitskaart?". (in Dutch). 19 June 2019.
  27. ^ "la Cour constitutionnelle juge la loi transgenre partiellement discriminatoire". (in French). 19 June 2019.
  28. ^ "Loi transgenre: les seules mentions "M" et "F" jugées inconstitutionnelles". Le (in French). 19 June 2019.
  29. ^ New legal gender recognition legislation approved by Belgium!
  30. ^ Belgium – New Gender Recognition Law with obstacles
  31. ^ Zelfbeschikking centraal in nieuwe transgenderwet
  32. ^ Nouvelle réglementation pour les personnes transgenres
  33. ^ "Française Chloë wil in Gent geslachtsoperatie ondergaan". 14 July 2014.
  34. ^ "Avis du CSH relatif à la sécurisation maximale de la collecte et de la transfusion sanguine (CSH 8094)" (PDF) (in French). Brussels: FPS Health Belgium. 18 February 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 April 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2009.
  35. ^ "La lutte contre l'interdiction du don de sang par les homosexuels - FDF". FDF. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  36. ^ "Don de sang : les homos toujours à l'index". Arc-en-ciel Wallonnie. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  37. ^ "Don de sang impossible pour les homosexuels: Ecolo demande à Onkelinx d'agir". La Libre Belgique. 3 September 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  38. ^ Genot, Zoé (May 2013). "Homo/Don de sang : Onkelinx reconnait que le dossier avance lentement... !". Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  39. ^ Homo's mogen binnenkort bloed geven, "maar enkel als ze twaalf maanden geen seks hebben gehad"
  40. ^ Smith, Gwendolyn (13 June 2019). "Red Cross bans transgender people from donating blood in Belgium". LGBTQ Nation.
  41. ^ Europe Split On Gay Marriage
  42. ^ "Special Eurobarometer 437" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  43. ^ (in Dutch) Vlaams minister van onderwijs Pascal Smet out zich als homo
  44. ^ Voorstel van resolutie betreffende de algemene maatschappelijke aanvaarding en gelijkschakeling van transgenders, Flemish Parliament
  45. ^ "Petra De Sutter op tweede plaats Europese lijst Groen". Het Laatste Nieuws. 25 February 2014.
  46. ^ "Bart De Wever: N-VA zal voor holebirechten stemmen in Europees Parlement". ZIZO-Online. 11 August 2014. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  47. ^ "Will Ferdy (90) was eerste bekende Vlaming die uit de kast kwam". Het Nieuwsblad. 9 March 2017.
  48. ^ "VTM verspreidt de eerste beelden: hier is Bo Van Spilbeeck". Het Laatste Nieuws. 30 January 2018.
  49. ^ "Çavaria is de Vlaamse belangenverdediger van LGBTI+ mensen en koepel van LGBTI+-organisaties". Çavaria (in Dutch).
  50. ^ Wet Jong Niet Hetero

External links[edit]