Two older men holding hands outdoors in nature.
Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Gay rights in Sweden

Sweden is rated gay-friendly and the law aims to protect your right to be who you are.

We all know that laws and regulations have a big impact on everyday life. Over the last decades Sweden has taken important steps to ensure that the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community enjoys the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Some more recent laws that have been passed are gender-neutral wedding laws (2009), adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples (2003), insemination rights for lesbians (2005), and a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation added to the Swedish constitution (2011).

Pride

Stockholm Pride usually attracts around 45,000 participants and 400,000 spectators.

In 2021, Malmö co-hosts WorldPride together with Copenhagen.

Rainbow Europe

The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) looks at legislation to rank countries in an annual review called Rainbow Europe. In the latest edition, Sweden was ranked #7 of 49 countries.

LGBTQI progress in Sweden – some milestones

1944 Homosexual relations are legalised

1972 Sweden becomes the first country in the world to legally allow gender change

1979 The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) decides homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder

1987 Ban on discrimination against homosexuals by businesses and government officials takes effect

1988 Homosexuals included in the cohabitation law

1995 The Registered Partnership Act (domestic partnership law) passed

1999 HomO, an ombudsman for LGBT persons, is established (later brought in under DO)

2003 Constitutional change to outlaw hate speech based on sexual orientation

2003 Adoption rights for same-sex couples

2005 Insemination rights for lesbian couples

2009 Transgender identity and expressions included in anti-discrimination act

2009 Gender-neutral marriage law in effect

2011 Prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation is added to the Swedish constitution

2013 Mandatory sterilisation stricken from law regarding change of legal gender

2019 Stronger legal protection against hate crimes for trans people through inclusion in the Freedom of the Press Act, one of Sweden’s fundamental laws

People taking part in a pride festival, with rainbow-coloured flags and accessories.

Pride festivals remind us that we should all be allowed to be who we are. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two men in a kitchen are preparing breakfast.

Swedish law aims to give everyone the same rights. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women press their foreheads against each other.

Since 2009, same-sex couples are legally allowed to get married in Sweden. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

A road packed with people for a pride festival. A big lorry with a sign that reads 'Love' in the middle.

Stockholm Pride first started in 1998. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women smiling next to a child.

Same-sex couples in Sweden have the right to adopt and lesbian couples have the right to have children through insemination. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

People taking part in a pride festival, with rainbow-coloured flags and accessories.

Pride festivals remind us that we should all be allowed to be who we are. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two men in a kitchen are preparing breakfast.

Swedish law aims to give everyone the same rights. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women press their foreheads against each other.

Since 2009, same-sex couples are legally allowed to get married in Sweden. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

A road packed with people for a pride festival. A big lorry with a sign that reads 'Love' in the middle.

Stockholm Pride first started in 1998. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women smiling next to a child.

Same-sex couples in Sweden have the right to adopt and lesbian couples have the right to have children through insemination. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

People taking part in a pride festival, with rainbow-coloured flags and accessories.

Pride festivals remind us that we should all be allowed to be who we are. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two men in a kitchen are preparing breakfast.

Swedish law aims to give everyone the same rights. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women press their foreheads against each other.

Since 2009, same-sex couples are legally allowed to get married in Sweden. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

A road packed with people for a pride festival. A big lorry with a sign that reads 'Love' in the middle.

Stockholm Pride first started in 1998. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlson/imagebank.sweden.se

Two women smiling next to a child.

Same-sex couples in Sweden have the right to adopt and lesbian couples have the right to have children through insemination. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Employment discrimination

A study from Linköping University (2020) shows that employers in Sweden more often reject job applications from transgender people – especially in male-dominated occupations.

Transgender people face discrimination on the grounds of both gender and transgender identity or expression.

Source: sciencedirect.com

Transgender rights on the agenda

There is still room for improvement in Sweden. Transgender rights is one such area, according to the RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights. The legal benchmarks are steps, not the final goal, in Sweden’s strive towards equality.

In 1972 Sweden became the first country in the world to allow for the legal change of gender identity. This move also contained some drawbacks, including mandatory sterilisation, which was removed from the law in 2013.

Changes still await

Swedes generally have a high level of confidence in government authorities. This trust grows out of a long history of public transparency, egalitarian politics and laws and institutions that protect the rights of individuals. The ombudsman system – public agencies that represent the interest of individuals – has been in effect since 1809.

If a person feels they have been discriminated against, they can turn to the Equality Ombudsman, a government agency that works against all kinds of discrimination.

One type of cases that the Equality Ombudsman deals with is how people are treated at healthcare centres. The law is clear in that discrimination is not acceptable, but ignorance and prejudices sometimes come into play. There is no requirement for healthcare professionals to have knowledge about LGBTQI-related issues.

Four well-dressed people outside, smiling.
In connection with the gender-neutral marriage law, the Church of Sweden permitted same-sex ceremonies. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Same-sex weddings in church

Religion is often cited as a reason why people object to homosexuality and transgender people. The national Church of Sweden, however, has taken a clear stance for love in all its forms.

Shortly after gender-neutral marriage laws came in effect in 2009, the Church of Sweden permitted same-sex ceremonies. Individual priests have the right to withstand but it is then up to the parish to find someone who will perform the ceremony.

The Church of Sweden also arranges Rainbow masses. They aim to mirror every person’s equal worth, also from an LGBTQI perspective. Malin Strindberg, priest at the Rainbow Mass, says:

‘Most priests are wise enough to understand that homosexual love is worth every bit as much as any other kind of love.’

Reaching out

One reason why Sweden is generally considered gay-friendly is that people continue to fight for further improvements.

In addition to RFSL, there are a number of other LGBTQI organisations that work with events, campaigns, information, education and support – often with international outreach. Stockholm Pride has a Stockholm Pride international solidarity fund (link in Swedish), founded in 2006, which supports pride events in other countries.

Many organisations in Sweden fight for the right for people who are persecuted in their home countries to get asylum in Sweden, with homosexual acts still outlawed in approximately 80 countries and territories around the world (Sweden legalised it in 1944).