Partnerships and Parenting
in the 21st Century
June 5-8, 2002
| Turin, Italy
International Lesbian and Gay Law Association and InformaGay (Italy) organized
a conference to explore legal issues related to marriage, partnerships and parenting.
We were honoured to be the keynote speakers on Friday, June 7. The following are
notes from an interview we did while we were in Turin with Kees
Waaldijk, Doctor of Law, Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands.
To ILGLAW for the invitation and the participants for an incredible time!
Bourassa and Joe Varnell
HOLLAND DID IT
And Visibility Is Key
In Ending Marriage Discrimination
Expert Dr. Kees Waaldijk Shares Insights
Italy - The conference on marriage, partnerships and parenting offered a great
opportunity for advocates of equality and human rights to learn from one another
in an exchange of knowledge, ideas, and information. Great things can happen under
such conditions. Dr. Kees Waaldijk knows about such things. He helped start the
discussions that eventually led to recognition of same-sex marriages in the Netherlands.
Netherlands was fairly quick with decriminalizing [homosexuality] - just after
France. It was the first country in Europe to equalize the age of consent in 1971
and then [the Netherlands] quickly started to discuss anti-discrimination laws
which came into effect in 1983," Waaldijk said, giving us an impromptu legal
history lesson in our hotel room.
the government began to explore the impacts of including sexual orientation in
their anti-discrimination laws, marriage was not an item on the agenda or even
open for discussion.
because there was already so much recognition, in terms of de facto couples, so
marriage was a non-runner, and others were ideologically against [marriage]."
genesis of same-sex marriage
still a student, started thinking of the possibilities and he began to build an
argument for legalization of same-sex marriages.
was just appointed a lecturer, I was still fairly young then, and I wrote a piece
for a student journal of law."
article was the first and only discussion on same-sex marriage in the country
at the time (1987), but the journal seemed to be only an academic yawn, with no
impact on law or politics.
was a "non-issue", Waaldijk explained. But three years later, a lawyer
representing a lesbian couple remembered the journal and contacted Waaldijk to
get some advice on a marriage case under appeal.
case began to gather public attention. It was only a matter of time before two
men stepped forward too. Eventually, the Netherlands' main gay publication (De
Gay Krant) found a male couple to run a test case. Again, Waaldijk was invited
into the case. He was becoming his country's authority on the subject.
Gay Krant's publishers petitioned every local authority that governed the local
registrars, to see if they would be prepared to do same-sex weddings. The magazine
played an important role in lining up political support. But others jumped in
- most importantly, deep within the communities.
was publicity in the local papers, and the local radio stations, so it suddenly
became an issue and not just in the high-brow metropolitan centres, but all over
it came time to go the Supreme Court however, only one couple went forward.
guys were richer than the girls, so the girls went up to the Supreme Court since
they had legal aid."
initial defeat - more public education
court decided against same-sex marriage, saying it was not a violation of human
rights to deny homosexuals access.
described his country's mainstream media as being fairly negative towards same-sex
marriage at the time. Gay media, however, were active in mobilizing members of
a week, four of the five main parties were asking for something to be done,"
the Christian Social Democratic Government was happy to defer to the Supreme Court
judgement, despite 90% of the population feeling that homosexuals should have
the same legal protections and obligations and 50% saying that included marriage.
1994, with the government in its last days, legislation for Registered
Domestic Partnerships (RDPs) was introduced. This helped to generate further
discussion with the public and in the media.
the left-wing gay movement, the more radical gay movement, turned around and said,
of course there should be full equality! There was a real idological shift in
the old gay movement. It caused many more people to think about it - what marriage
for same-sex marriage
government finally decided to answer that question when they formed a committee
to explore the the impacts of Netherlands becoming the first country in the world
to offer gay marriage.
had easy consensus that adoption should be possible with automatic joint authority.
The key issue was international recognition. Some claimed it would be much more
difficult to have a same-sex marriage recognized abroad. It would create all kinds
of unforseen difficulties and it would be damaging to the Netherlands. We'd be
the laughing stock of the world."
majority of the committee did not agree with that view, and Waaldijk was happy
to be among the five who voted in favour of same-sex marriage, with three members
of same-sex marriages outside of the Netherlands just wasn't something the country
could control, and besides, "for some people, the problems would be solved
and for the people going to contries who are less liberal, the problems would
not get bigger. A whole list of incidents will gradually increase the number of
countries which will recognize our same-sex marriages abroad, but that will take
a while to complete."
new legislation legalizing same-sex marriage came into effect April 1, 2001.
clears the way to same-sex marriage
from religious groups was of little consequence in the Netherlands.
a very secular society. There was strong opposition from some really traditional
protestant churches and from the Bishops, but the rest of the Catholic church
didn't say much."
fact, Waaldijk believes debates at church meetings and discussion in Christian
media helped advance the issue.
is important," he said. "The more people were visible, there was more
support. Since you had more public weddings in the streets, people would accidently
run into a same-sex wedding. That didn't happen before, apart from one or two
radical fairies in the 1970's. If you go through the process of a wedding, you
enlarge the circle of people who you're out to."
us about it.