English > Current Affairs
Five years of gay marriage by Sebastiaan Gottlieb
It's exactly five years this month since the first gay and lesbian weddings were allowed in the Netherlands. At the time, this was the only country in the world where it was possible for gay couples to marry. On the day itself, 1 April 2001, the international media flocked to the event and just after midnight, surrounded by their friends and families, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen conducted the marriage of four couples, three gay and one lesbian.
"If I had known that the marriage would attract such an enormous amount of attention, I would never have agreed to be the first to marry", says Anne Marie Thus five years later in her home in Amsterdam's Osdorp district. "When we arrived from our hotel and found this huge number of satellite vans from the international media, I was really shocked. Fortunately, we found our families among the crowd of journalists, which gave us a sense of comfort. It was overwhelming, but also beautiful: the city hall was decorated with roses and Mayor Job Cohen gave a lovely speech."
Since the Netherlands made it legal for marriage contracts between homosexual partners, two other European countries have followed suit: Belgium and Spain. Outside of Europe, gay and lesbian couples can marry in Canada and in the US state of Massachusetts.
South Africa will probably introduce same-sex marriage this year. About 30 countries in the world recognise the so-called 'registered partnership', which is different from marriage in that it does not automatically give both partners parental rights over children.
Rush to marry
During the first year, no fewer than 2414 gay and lesbian couples married in the Netherlands. According to Marian Baker of the International Homosexual/Lesbian Information Centre and Archive (IHLIA), there was already a large group of couples that had wanted to marry before the legislation was brought in. After the law was changed, the rate of same-sex marriages stabilised to around 1200 per year.
Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen conducted the first gay marriages
Homosexuals marry less often than heterosexuals, according to Jan Latten of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). This is believed to be because they have children less often than straight couples. The divorce rate, though, is the same as that of heterosexuals, but lesbians divorce more often than gay men.
Anne Marie Thus, one of the first lesbians to marry, has since given birth to two children from an unknown donor father. "The difference with a heterosexual marriage is that my wife does not have the same rights as the father, who can confirm the child as his at the city hall. This is the only remaining part of Dutch family law where women do not have the same rights.
It took three years before my wife could adopt our child, which legally makes her the mother. Homosexuals are also not able to adopt children as a couple; only one of the two can do this individually." Anne Marie Thus has established a website called "more than wanted" in order to get this last remaining distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals removed from the law.
Still not equal
In the past five years, gay marriage has become accepted almost everywhere in the Netherlands. Problems still happen, though, when gay people who married here want to live or work abroad. Because their marriage is not often recognised in other countries, they are sometimes unable to get a residence or work permit. The emancipation of gay people is not yet complete, but recognition of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands has been a giant leap towards it.