Gay marriage old news in Netherlands and other nations
March 05, 2004
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Amsterdam's mayor officiated at the Netherlands' first gay
wedding three years ago - and since then, the issue has all but
disappeared from the country's political agenda.
Frank Wittebrood (L) and Peter Lemke (C) show their tattooed wedding rings to Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen (R) after their marriage in Amsterdam, early 01 April 2001. |
While the United States is engaged in fierce debate over gay
marriage, Canadians are discussing a federal law to legalize it and
many European countries legally recognize civil unions.
But in the Netherlands, nobody really talks about the issue
"It's really become less of something that you need to explain,"
says Anne-Marie Thus, who in 2001 married Helene Faasen. "We're
totally ordinary. We take our children to preschool every day.
People know they don't have to be afraid of us."
Around the world, countries are coming to terms with how to
treat same-sex couples - and the trend in many is toward
In Denmark, civil unions with the same rights as marriage have
been around since 1989, and other Nordic countries followed suit in
The Dutch were the first to eliminate any distinction between
gay and straight, striking all references to gender in the marriage
laws. Belgium soon did the same.
Canada jumped to the forefront of gay rights in North America in
June when it announced plans to legalize same-sex marriages. Many
same-sex couples streamed north to marry in Ottawa and British
Columbia after courts in those provinces authorized weddings.
In most of Africa, homosexuality is illegal and gay marriage
unthinkable. But in South Africa, gay rights were enshrined in the
post-apartheid constitution and some groups are lobbying for the
right to marry.
In Japan, homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness
as it once was, but many gays still feel pressure to go through
with a sham heterosexual marriage.
In Malaysia, homosexuality remains illegal and sodomy is
punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but the laws are rarely
enforced and gays are mostly left alone if they keep to themselves
Gay marriage is not under consideration in this predominantly
Gay rights activists in the Phillipines say a few unofficial
same-sex marriage ceremonies have taken place, but are not
recognized by law. Michael Urbano, a spokesman for the rights group
Pro-Gay, said Filipino gays face more pressing problems than
seeking a law recognizing same-sex marriages.
"It's a right that gays should enjoy, but we should first face
the primary problem of gays - it's discrimination and homophobia,"
said Urbano, who added that many gays in the Philippines are forced
into sham heterosexual marriages due to pressure from their
Strongly Roman Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy refuse
to recognize gay couples, following the Vatican's abhorrence of
homosexuality. But there are important exceptions.
In Portugal, and in Spain's Navarra and Basque regions, gay
couples who live together long enough receive the same benefits as
heterosexuals covered by common law unions. In Argentina's capital,
Buenos Aires, gay couples can register for a civil union.
And Brazil's southern state of Rio Grande do Sul has became the
first in Brazil to permit civil unions between same-sex couples and
granting them the same rights as married couples in a court order
France and Germany recognize civil union laws, and Britain is in
the process of adopting them.
The Dutch have watched the hoopla in the United States with some
bemusement. Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, who married six couples at
the stroke of midnight on April 1, 2001, when the Dutch law took
effect, sent a note of support to Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco
mayor who set off a rush to California when he officiated same-sex
In contrast to Amsterdam's boisterous gay clubs and the spring
rite of the Gay Pride parade through its famed canals, Faasen and
Thus, the Dutch lesbian couple, live a quiet middle-class life in a
neat apartment on the city's outskirts. They hardly seem like
revolutionaries, or even trendsetters.
Faasen is a notary and Thus works part-time in a home for the
elderly. The couple have a 3 1/2-year-old son, Nathan, and
2-year-old daughter, Myrthle. Faasen adopted the two, who are Thus'
Their reasons for marrying were prosaic.
"With marriage, you have a whole range of legal issues settled
right in one go," Faasen says, scooping up Myrthle. "Child care,
life insurance, health insurance, pension, inheritance. Otherwise
you're left taking care of those things bit by bit, where it's
In typical Dutch fashion, the gay marriage law was debated for
years before it was finally enacted without fanfare. Government
statistics show that 2,400 same-sex marriages took place in its
first nine months, compared with 1,500 last year.
Marten van Mourik, a law professor at the Catholic University of
Nijmegen, says the declining rate of same-sex unions vindicated his
opposition to the change in the law and shows it was unnecessary
since civil unions were already legal.
"You don't change an institution with such a long history from
one day to the next just to satisfy the whim of one group of
people," he says. "Marriage is a relationship between a man and a
woman intended to produce children. You can't get around that."
But he concedes there is no political support for reversing the
law, even though the government is now led by the Christian
Democrats, which had opposed the legislation.
Henk Krol, editor of the magazine Gay Krant, argues that civil
unions are an intermediate stage on the way to full marriage rights
for gays, which he says are inevitable.
"A civil union is a second-rate marriage," he says. "People want
a honeymoon. Not a trip to celebrate a registered partnership."
He says those who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons
often soften their thinking when they realize they won't be forced
to accept gay couples joining their church.
"It's an issue of separation of church and state," he says. "We
don't have gay marriage here. We have civil marriage, and it's the
same for everyone."
But Thus, who was raised Catholic, said the fact of her marriage
itself has helped win over religious people.
"Especially for religious people, marriage makes a statement
that 'this is someone I love and will grow old with,"' she said.
"When you're just 'partners' or 'living together,' they think
... you know, every day a new lover.' With marriage, the commitment
is real, and they believe it." – Sapa-AP
Dutch churches merger will permit gay marriages [15/12/2003]
Dutch gay organisations publish marriage manual [25/08/2003]