Tunisia just became the first Arab country to recognise same-sex marriage – but there’s a catch


The Republic of Tunisia has become the first Arab state to recognise a same-sex marriage, a Tunisian LGBT+ rights organisation has announced.

According to Association Shams, a marriage settlement between a Frenchman, 31, and a Tunisian man, 26, was legally recognised in Tunisia for the first time on Friday.

Homosexuality is illegal in the north African country and same-sex marriage is not yet permitted, but the marriage in question was formalised in France.

It was officially noted in the birth certificate of the Tunisian registry, allowing the Tunisian man to obtain a visa for family reunification. Both men have remained anonymous for their safety.

Although the news hasn’t been confirmed by the Tunisian state, Shams is celebrating it as a huge step forward for LGBT+ rights in the Arab-Muslim world.

“[It is a] success of which I am very proud,” said SHAMS president Mounir Baatour, adding that it followed a years-long legal battle.

“We won… against the many post-revolutionary political-judicial regimes! This is not the least of my satisfactions.

“To my knowledge, Shams is now the only [LGBT+] legal association in the Arab-Muslim world. This is not nothing and offers us hardly believable opportunities, sometimes beyond our borders.”

Tunisian lawyer Mounir Baatour, president of Association Shams, which supports the depenalization of homosexuality in Tunisia

Tunisian lawyer Mounir Baatour, president of Association Shams, which advocates for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tunisia (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty)

The news has sparked outrage among Tunisian media, with some denouncing it as “heresy”.

When contacted by the independent Tunisian news site Nawaat, the Tunisian government did not confirm or deny that the marriage had been recognised.

“There is no centralisation of civil status data at the ministry of local affairs. We are therefore in the process of verifying the information,” said minister Lotfi Zitoun.

But he added: “If it is true, know that it is against the law. French law does not allow recognition of same-sex marriage by Maghreb countries. There was a precedent, an error committed by the municipality of Tunis. And it has been rectified.”

The LGBT+ and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was tentatively optimistic but acknowledged that there is more work to be done.

He told The Jerusalem Post: “This recognition of a gay marriage is a milestone in the Arab world. But it is indirect recognition, and not the legalisation of marriage between same-sex couples.

“Even if it is appealed or overturned, this is a breakthrough that will give hope to LGBT+ people in Tunisia and across North Africa and the Middle East.”