Sally T.

Gay Marriage/Same-Sex Unions in Modern European States

1989: Denmark
Denmark became the first country to legalized same-sex unions, and has since provided a model to other Scandinavian states. By the end of 1991 about 1000 such unions had taken place, 3000 by then end of 1995. Although the legal ceremony creates legal bond enforceable in law, it is not the same as marriage between men and women - gay/lesbian couples were not granted access to adoption, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, or church weddings [the last prohibition, which reads oddly to American readers is a consequence of the state church situation in the Nordic countries.] Also one partner must be a citizen of Denmark. These limitations are to be copied in the laws of the other Nordic countries.

1993: Norway
Gay and lesbian unions were made legal April 1 1993. The legislation passed the Odelsting chamber of the Norwegian parliament by a vote of 58-40 on March 29 and the Lagting chamber by a vote of 18-16 on April 1. Federal Minister for Children and Family Affairs Grete Berget said the law will come into effect Aug. 1.

A newspaper report prior to the actual legislative activity, gives some indication of the scope of the laws

"Norway Second Country in the World with a Partnership Law for Homosexuals"
Norway Times September 3, 1992

OSLO- The Norwegian government has proposed a partnership law for couples of the same sex, as briefly noted in a previous issue of Norway Times. The law proposal, which is not fully formulated, will not give homosexuals the opportunity to marry.

The issue is controversial, but a majority in the Parliament is expected to support the proposal. If it passes in the Parliment, Norway will become the second country in the world, after Denmark, to sanction homosexual partnerships by law.

The Labor and Socialist Left parties are expected to back the law, while the staunchest opposition will come from the Christian Party. A key argument for the partnership law is that the practical consequences of homosexual partnerships are largely the same as for marriage. These include matters such as national insurance benefits, pensions, inheritance, and the mutual duty to support each other financially.

Regardless of the accepted attitude towards the institution of marriage as a bearing element in society, it should be possible to regulate the practical sides of a homosexual relationship without thereby putting marriage and homosexual partnerships on an equal footing, says the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs.

1994: Iceland
The Alltinget [Parliament] created a Gay rights commission which recommended this month that Iceland legalize gay/lesbian marriage, criminalize discrimination against gays, and substantially increase education about gays in schools.

1995: Sweden
The law legalizing same sex unions came into effect Jan.1. The law had passed quite narrowly with a parliamentary vote of 171 to 141 with 5 abstentions and 32 absences. The Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt was quoted as saying: "We accept homosexual love as equivalent to heterosexual. Love is an important force to personal as well as social development, and should therefore not be denied." ...

An American newspaper report indicates clearly that these unions are being conceived of as "marriages".

"Two Swedish Men Marry under New Gay Law"
San Jose Mercury News, Tuesday, 1/3/95, p. 1D

Stockholm, Sweden (AP) -- Hans Jonsson and Sven-Olov Jansson exchanged wedding vows Monday, becoming the first Swedish couple to marry under a new law allowing gay marriages.

"We have lived together for five years, but we feel it is important to be recognized by the society the same way heterosexual couples are," Jansson said.

Sweden became the third Nordic country--after Denmark and Norway--to allow gays to register partnerships with all the rights and obligations of marriage except adopting children or having a church wedding.

Johnsson, 42, and Jansson, 58, participated in a brief civil ceremony at the Ostersund town hall, 370 miles northwest of Stockholm.

Jorn Svensson, a former parliament member from Sweden's left party, presided over the ceremony. He wished the men, "happiness in your partnership and your home."

In five years, Denmark has registered the partnerships of 2,810 men and women. Norway allowed its first gay marriages in 1993.

1995: Czech Republic
Ingeborg Polakova and Jan Bednar of SOHO, the leading gay-rights group in the Czech republic were reported as saying that a gay marriage law might pass soon. .The legislation will be considered when the parliament begins to update the Czech Civil Code. Under the proposal, registered same sex couples would have every right of marriage except to adopt children.

1995: Spain ***
After decades of repression under the Franco regime, Spain's gay culture has seen a massive upsurge since the late 1970's. One aspect has been the virtual abandonment of Church attendance by the nation's youth and a willingness to consider anything and everything without concern for Church teaching. In 1995 Rex Wockner reported that roughly 30 Spanish cities currently register "civil" same sex unions, including Barcelona, Cordoba, Granada, Ibiza, Toledo and Valencia (which has a regional law) and that gay and lesbian political leaders were agitating for the national government to register partnership for gay and straight couples this spring. Proposed legislation received support in the media, regional parliaments, and the federal parliament, which even voted to tell the government to write its own proposal. As in other European nations, all the rights of marriage except adoption are expected to be included. [It is not clear yet how the election of a more conservative government in recent elections has effected this effort.] Almost there!

1995: Hungary
In an odd legal decision the Hungarian Constitutional Court legalized "common-law" gay marriage on March 8 1995. The court said a law limiting common-law marriages to "those formed between adult men and women" was unconstitutional. "It is arbitrary and contrary to human dignity ... that the law (on common-law marriages) withholds recognition from couples living in an economic and emotional union simply because they are same-sex," the court wrote. The justices ordered parliament to make the changes necessary to implement common-law gay marriage by March 1, 1996. [It may be noted that common-law and formally married couples have the same rights. A couple that lives together permanently and has sex is considered married under common law.] The oddity was that the court also ruled that formal, civil marriages are for heterosexual couples only. "Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality (and) changes in the traditional definition of a family, there is no reason to change the law on (civil) marriages". This ruling was the result of a legal action by the leading Hungarian gay group, Homeros.

1995: Slovenia
Wockner reported that the head of the government's Bureau for Women's Politics, Vera Kozmik, told the Slovene National TV program "Tednik" ("Weekly") March 23, 1995 that "Gay marriage should be legal in Slovenia in two years". This is an odd case of a government pushing ahead faster than the local gay movement - the Women's Bureau is co-sponsoring a petition to parliament along with gay activists, but it had only 155 signatures to date. According to a poll, 57 percent of Slovenians oppose gay marriage and 29 percent approve of it.

1995: Netherlands
Based on information from the International Lesbian and Gay Association and journalist Bert Schuur, Wockner noted that over 90 Dutch towns now have same sex union registries. Gays in some professions, including civil service, health care and education, as well as employees of the airline KLM, already receive spousal benefits. In 1996 moves are afoot in the Dutch parliament to simply remove the gender requirements in standard marriage law. This will mean that the Netherlands will be the first nation to open marriage - not some related legal union - to same sex couples.

1995: Britain
Even Britain has seen an official lesbian marriage, although under rather ununusal circumstances:-
from The Plaid website [a Scotish transsexual site] Item from BBC Radio news at 1800 bst [date not given]

Today a lesbian couple made history by getting married. Tracy Scott was born a man but had a sex change operation a year ago. Although physically female, under British law she is still a man and was therefore able to marry her partner. Both brides emerged from the brief civil ceremony at Chelsea Registry Office wearing white satin gowns with matching bouquets and head dresses. (both bride and groom then said how wonderful it was).

They had to take vows as a man and a woman but at the end they were declared "married" rather than "man and wife".

The gay activist Peter Tatchell says the remarkable circumstances that made this marriage possible neatly symbolizes the unfairness of the law. He said that this particular couple were very lucky to be able to exploit a loop hole in the law and it's mildly satisfactory to see they've been able to get a bit of revenge against a profoundly homophobic bit of legislation .

It's unclear whether this wedding will lead to reform in the law on sex changes. The couple will be known as Mrs Tina and Mrs Tracy Scott-Dixon.

The are occasional reports of developments outside Europe and the US. For instance Australia has an active Lesbian and gay movement which is much effected by American and European developments, and in 1996 South Africa became the first state in the world to include gays and lesbians as a class protected from discrimination in its constitution. We can expect to see some activity in both countries around the issue of same sex marriage, then. There was also this rather interesting note from Brazil, usually considered so traditionally "macho":-

1995: Brazil
[source for this information misplaced!]
Recent surveys in the Brazilian state capitals of Salvador, Curitiba and Aracaju found that 60 to 80 percent of Brazilians believe gays must have the same rights as heterosexuals and 50 to 65percent think gay couples should be able to get married, correspondent Luiz Mott reports from Salvador, Bahia. Seventy-three Brazilian cities and towns -- including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia -- ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Legislation to create civil-union contracts for same-sex couples was recently introduced nationally by Worker's Party Deputy Marta Suplicy, Mott said. Mott and his lover were united in a religious ceremony in the Pacifist Christian Church and Mott has demanded that the Justice Department recognize the marriage under civil law. He is waiting for a response.

Conservative voices in the US often stress the "European roots" of American culture. What is quite clear is that throughout modern Europe. the notion of "same sex" marriage is more and more widely accepted.


Modern United States.




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