(New York) - Ten countries on three continents have legalized same-sex marriage in the past decade, but discrimination persists, even in those countries, Human Rights Watch said today. The first same-sex marriages took place in the Netherlands on April 1, 2001.

"The fact that same-sex marriage has been legalized on three continents demonstrates progress in equality," said Boris O. Dittrich, acting director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "However, while the right to same-sex marriage may be viewed as the last step in ending discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, legalization does not end discrimination, either by officials or other people."

Discrimination is still prevalent in the countries where same-sex marriage has been legalized, although to a greater extent in some countries than others, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2001, following the pioneer example of the Netherlands, same-sex marriage has been adopted by Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010), Iceland (2010), and Argentina (2010). Since 2010, same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City, Federal District, and it is recognized by all other Mexican states. Several states within the US also recognize same-sex marriage.

"It is inevitable that more nations that are open to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity will follow these 10 countries," Dittrich said. "The trend to legalize same-sex marriage is unstoppable." 

Countries where the judicial, political, or legal process of recognizing same-sex marriage has begun, including Nepal, Slovenia, and Australia, should see it through, Human Rights Watch said.  

Some countries, in a positive step, have also recognized same-sex marriages performed by foreign jurisdictions, including Israel, New Zealand, Mexico, and some states in the US, Human Rights Watch said.  

Many other countries have legislation that recognizes same-sex relationships in the form of civil unions or registered partnerships. In these cases, people in same-sex relationships have many of the same rights as married couples. However, civil marriage in these countries is reserved for different sex couples and not open to same-sex couples.

A survey by Human Rights Watch of LGBT rights groups in the 10 countries where same-sex marriage is legal of what they hope to achieve over the next five to ten years found varied priorities but some common ground.

"In most of the countries, the right of transgender people to be recognized before the law without having to undergo non-reversible sterilization is a high priority," Dittrich said. "Combating homophobia and transphobia among young people within the educational system is another, and ending violence and aggression by private individuals, from families to strangers on the street, is a common denominator."