Link to Marriage Partnerships and Parenting in the 21st Century conference

Reports From Turin, Italy:

Press Conference - June 4, 2002

Judicial Forum - June 8, 2002

 

Dr. Kees Waaldijk (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Dr. Kees Waaldijk, having a chat in our hotel room on the closing day of the conference in Turin, Italy (June 8, 2002)

 

Link to  Elliott & Kim - our heroes fighting for our right to marriage in Ontario

 

Photo of Kees Waaldijk by equalmarriage.ca, 2002

Waaldijk started thinking of the possibilities and he began to build an argument for legalization of same-sex marriages.

 

 

Please support our Equal Marriage Fund - A National Fund in Support of Legal Expenses

 

 

Photo of Kees Waaldijk by equalmarriage.ca, 2002

"Then 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 really is."

 

 

 

Photo of Kees Waaldijk by equalmarriage.ca, 2002

"If you go through the process of a wedding, you enlarge the circle of people who you're out to."

 

 

 

Photo of Kees Waaldijk by equalmarriage.ca, 2002

"Visibility is important. The more people were visible, there was more support."

 

 

 


Marriage Partnerships and Parenting
in the 21st Century

June 5-8, 2002 | Turin, Italy

The 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.

Thanks To ILGLAW for the invitation and the participants for an incredible time!

Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell


HOW HOLLAND DID IT

Discussion And Visibility Is Key
In Ending Marriage Discrimination

Netherlands Expert Dr. Kees Waaldijk Shares Insights

Turin, 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.

"The 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.

As 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.

"Partly 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]."

The genesis of same-sex marriage

Waaldijk, still a student, started thinking of the possibilities and he began to build an argument for legalization of same-sex marriages.

"I was just appointed a lecturer, I was still fairly young then, and I wrote a piece for a student journal of law."

His 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.

Marriage 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.

The 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.

"There 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 the country."

When it came time to go the Supreme Court however, only one couple went forward.

"The guys were richer than the girls, so the girls went up to the Supreme Court since they had legal aid."

An initial defeat - more public education

The court decided against same-sex marriage, saying it was not a violation of human rights to deny homosexuals access.

Waaldijk 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 parliament.

"Within a week, four of the five main parties were asking for something to be done," Waaldijk recalled.

However 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.

By 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.

"Then 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 really is."

Consensus for same-sex marriage

The 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.

"We 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."

The 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 voting against.

Recognition 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."

The new legislation legalizing same-sex marriage came into effect April 1, 2001.

Visibility clears the way to same-sex marriage

Opposition from religious groups was of little consequence in the Netherlands.

"It's 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."

In fact, Waaldijk believes debates at church meetings and discussion in Christian media helped advance the issue.

"Visibility 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."

Tell us about it.