Rights in Exile Programme

Refugee Legal Aid Information for Lawyers Representing Refugees Globally

Sweden LGBTI Resources

(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists) 


Sweden decriminalized same-sex relationships in 1944. Since then, the legal age of consent for all sexual activity has been 15 years. Additionally, same-sex relationships were included in the Homosexual Cohabitees Act in 1988 and the Cohabitation Act of 2003. In 1995, the Registered Partnership Act came into force, followed by the Equal Treatment of Students at Universities Act in 2002, which states that 'its purpose is to promote equal rights for students and applicants in the higher education sector and to combat discrimination in higher education on grounds of sex, ethnic affiliation, religion or other belief, sexual orientation or disability.' 

In 2003, same-sex couples were given the same rights as opposite-sex couples with respect to all forms of adoption and legal custody of children. This was further expanded in 2005 when discrimination within the social welfare and health care systems was banned, enabling access to medically assisted insemination for  female same-sex couples. The Marriage Act 2009 is sex and gender neutral.  It states 'same-sex couples can enter into marriage on the same terms as couples of different sexes. The provisions of the Marriage Code are applied in the same manner, regardless of whether the spouses are of different sexes or the same sex.’. The gender neutral Marriage Act replaces the earlier Registered Partnership Act regulating same sex couples. Under Swedish law, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Section 1 of the 2009 Discrimination Act states, 'the purpose of this Act is to combat discrimination and in other ways promote equal rights and opportunities regardless of sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age’. The Ombudsman Against Discrimination (DO) is the Swedish government authority working against homophobia and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

It is important to emphasise that at present these laws apply to sexual orientation but not to gender identity, which means that the transgender community is at best indirectly included. As the The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) further explains, 'in Sweden there is no legal identity other than that of a man or a woman, or option to choose a name that doesn’t correspond to biological and legally assigned gender. For transgendered people who undergo sex-change procedures, sterilization and divorce are still required.’



ME vs. SWEDEN  26/06/2014, Fifth Section; European Court of Human Rights

The applicant, a Libyan national who had been living in Sweden since 2010, applied for asylum initially on the grounds that he feared persecution because of his involvement in the illegal transportation of weapons. Later he raised an additional ground for asylum stating that he was homosexual and had married a man. As to the original ground for his asylum request, he accepted that in view of political changes in Libya, he would probably no longer be in danger there. The Migration Board rejected his request, finding that he had given contradictory statements and that his story lacked credibility. It found no obstacle to his returning to Libya to apply for a residence permit in Sweden on account of his family ties and marriage. The Migration Court dismissed his appeal after finding that he was not in need of international protection and that his story was not credible.

[Note:  In 2015, citing a worsening security situation in Lybia, the Migration Board in Sweden decided not to deport the applicant and he was issued permanent residency.  The ECtHR subsequently struck off his application, without further resolving the question of Sweden’s liability under Article 3].

MONDAL vs. SWEDEN 23/05/2011, Stockholm Migration Court

The applicant was a political activist in Bangladesh, resulting in problems with the rival Bangladesh National Party (BNP) militants and abuse by police officers. The applicant also feared persecution and harassment as part of the Hindu religious minority. Additionally, the applicant stated that a Muslim friend of his informed other people about his homosexuality, and as a result, the Imam of the area issued a death fatwa against him. Because Hinduism also forbids homosexual relations, he had problems with his family. In support of his claims, the applicant presented his national passport, the Mosque’s fatwa against him, as well as certificates of his BDB party membership, a press article, and a Swedish medical journal.

On 15 June 2005, the Migration Board rejected the complainant’s asylum application for the following reasons: the applicant failed to establish his identity as his passport was damaged, the political activities had been limited in time and in place, the torture allegations were seen as an isolated act and the problems caused by his religious faith are not sufficient for grounding need of protection. The Board had admitted that homosexuality was criminalized in Bangladesh and could be punished with life imprisonment. However, it asserted that in practice, there is no active persecution of homosexuals in Bangladesh. Therefore, the court found no humanitarian reasons to grant a residence permit to the applicant. He appealed this decision with the Supreme Court of Migrations Appeals but they rejected the complaint in 2007.



In 1971 the first gay demonstration took place in Örebro. In 1972, Sweden was the first country worldwide to offer gender-reassignment treatment. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1944, it was nevertheless treated as an illness until the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare removed homosexuality from its medical diagnosis list in 1979.

Seeking asylum based on sexual orientation

In line with the Geneva Convention, the Swedish Aliens Act 2005 defines refugees as persons who are outside their country of origin owing to 'a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, nationality, religious or political belief or because of gender, sexual orientation or other belonging to a particular social group', and who 'cannot, or because of his or her fear will not, avail himself or herself of that country’s protection'. The 2009 UNHCR Report ‘Fleeing for love: asylum seekers and sexual orientation in Scandinavia explains the two main reasons used to reject individuals seeking asylum on grounds of sexual orientation: Firstly, the Migration Board and Migration Courts' country of origin information states that homosexuals are generally not persecuted because of their sexuality. Secondly, the Migration Board and Courts doubt the credibility of asylum-seekers, sometimes including his or her claimed sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the RFSL estimate that about two-thirds of those seeking asylum on grounds of sexual orientation are eventually given protection. However, the 2013 Swedish Annual Review of the Human Right Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) highlights that it is becoming more difficult for LGBT asylum seekers to stay in Sweden.  The report states that the Swedish asylum authorities rejected a number of applications from gay men in 2012, but also mentions that many got their case re-opened and received status in Sweden due to their appearance in Swedish media or other interventions. More information about application statistics can be found in the Asylum Information Database, National Country Report of Sweden.

Public attitudes

Despite the laws to protect the LBGTI community, violent and discriminatory crimes still occur. As evinced in an RFSL Booklet, homophobic crimes rose by 30% between 2002 and 2003, and the number of LGBT persons subject to hate crimes doubled between 1999 and 2004.

Looking at homophobia in religious institutions, the RFSL mentions that on 1st September 2009, the Church of Sweden (Svenska Kyrkan) decided to officiate marriages between same-sex couples. ILGA's 2013 Swedish Annual Review Report also traces evidence of progressive public attitudes: On the 2012 Eurobarometer Sweden scored 8.8 on a scale from 1 (‘totally uncomfortable’) to 10 (‘totally comfortable’) when asked how comfortable they would feel with an LGB individual in the highest elected political position in their country, and they scored 7.4 when asked about a transgender/transsexual person in the highest elected political position in their country. Both scores are significantly above the EU27 average. In March 2012, a concert by Jamaican rap artist Sizzla was cancelled in Stockholm due to a public outcry in response to the homophobic lyrics in some of his material.   However, another act against homophobia followed several months later, in December, when the Swedish football club Sörskogens IF fired all the players on its top team following complaints that players hurled homophobic remarks at members of the opposing team, Stockholm Snipers (a football club with mainly LGBT players).



We do not currently list any LGBTI NGOs in Sweden, but we welcome suggestions.



We do not currently list a specialist on LGBTI issues in Sweden, but we welcome suggestions.


Researched by: Tamara van Doorn

Email: Tamara [dot] vdoorn105athotmail [dot] com