Same sex weddings make history

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

At the appointed hour of 12 midnight on 31 March 2002, four lesbian and gay couples exchanged wedding vows in a special ceremony at Amsterdam City Hall. Mindy Ran reports.

At the appointed hour of 12 midnight on 31 March 2002, four lesbian and gay couples exchanged wedding vows in a special ceremony at Amsterdam City Hall.

The event will be well remembered in the extended struggle for homosexual rights.

The Amsterdam ceremony was the first legal civil marriage of same-sex couples in the world.

Officiating at the service was the new Amsterdam Mayor, Job Cohen.

As the former deputy Justice Minister, Cohen was directly responsible for the move to legalise gay weddings.

Under the new laws, the same basic requirements will be in place for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples. That is, one partner must be a resident of the Netherlands, the intention to marry must be registered and the two participants are not allowed to be closely related.

They are bound by the same laws of both marriage and divorce.

But important differences arise when recognising the marriage outside of the Netherlands. There is also a major difference in the law if the married couple wish to have children.

"We are seeking recognition contracts with other countries," the senior legal advisor of the Registrar's Office in Amsterdam, Hans Tomson, said.

"But our expectations are not high. In Scandinavia maybe."

There are also similar discussions being held in Aruba and the Dutch Antilles.

But authorities are advising couples that their marriage might not be considered valid in other countries and that the consequences of the marital union might extend further than a lack of marital rights.

"In some countries homosexuality is still against the law. I can imagine you could get serious problems in Islamic countries or even the Balkans," Hanson said.

In these types of scenarios, Hanson said it would be better to leave the marriage license at home.

The other legal snag concerns children.

At present there is no law that prevents same-sex couples from adopting children.

But it is more often the case that long-term couples choose for one partner to biologically become a father, or in the case of women, to become pregnant and carry a child full-term.

The rights of that parent will not change under the new marriage laws, but the other spouse will not automatically be recognised as the other parent.

But if same-sex couples decide they want to have that recognition, they can choose to adopt the child.

The Christian Democrats and three smaller Protestant political parties voted against the legalisation of same-sex marriages and the Vatican also denounced the change.

It is interesting to note here though, that in the Netherlands, all marriages must first be performed as a civil ceremony before a religious ceremony can be staged.

But church groups maintain their strong attitudes, despite division among their ranks.

"I have heard of a few priests who will perform same-sex weddings against the authority of the church," Tomson said.

Yet it was not the conflict in the church that generated the most fire.

A conflict among members of International Law Advisors to the Netherlands centred on who supported the law and those who thought it would eventually isolate the Netherlands from the rest of the world. Still more others argued it would make the country look foolish.

But Tomson does not agree.

"It is an important step towards equality and civil rights for gays and lesbians," Tomson said.

April 2002

Subject: Gay weddings in the Netherlands

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