Today’s Opinion: Anniversary sparks same sex marriage debate

POSTED: 04/5/11 12:02 PM

On April Fool’s Day it was exactly ten years ago that the Netherlands legalized civil marriages for same sex couples. While the expression same-sex marriage is commonly used, it does not exist as such in the Netherlands. Marriage is open for heterosexuals, homosexuals and lesbians. All married couples have the same rights under Dutch law.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the change in the civil code that made it possible for gay and lesbian couples to achieve married status, parliamentarian Pia Dijkstra, a former TV-journalist who won a seat in parliament in 2010 on preferential votes, urged the government in an opinion piece that appeared in the Volkskrant yesterday, to support the gay and lesbian communities in the BES-islands and to instruct municipalities to no longer hire civil servants who refuse to conduct civil marriages between partners of the same sex.

The same marriage for everyone, not a separate gay marriage next to a hetero marriage. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to take this step, marking a milestone in the history of gay rights, Dijkstra wrote, adding that the country, by taking this decision, gave the right example to the rest of the world.

Since then other countries have followed: Belgium, Spain, Canada, South-Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, and several states in Mexico and the United States.

But Dijkstra – married to Gerlach Cerfontaine, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Utrecht, and mother of three children – says that ten years down the road there are still a lot of issues to be resolved. She described them in her opinion piece as follows.

“When a heterosexual couple gets children, the man automatically receives parenthood. Of a married lesbian couple only the biological mother is acknowledged as a parent at birth. The co-mother has to go through an expensive and emotionally charging adoption procedure. If the biological mother dies before this process is finished, the child becomes an orphan and the co-mother is left without rights.

This inequality is unacceptable. Both parents of lesbian couples must have the same rights as a hetero-couple has. The cabinet must therefore make haste with the draft law lesbian parenthood, to make sure that in the future thousands of children and co-mothers have better legal protection.

In the European Union married gay and lesbian couples are still being discriminated at work or during their studies, because many member states do not recognize the partner as a legal family member.

Married gay and lesbian couples ought to be able to use the same rights in the European Union as married hetero-couples. It is unacceptable that European citizens cannot move freely through the union without losing their rights. The Dutch government must take a stand in Europe for member states to at least recognize each other’s laws.

Within the Netherlands there is still inequality in this regard. The BES-islands Bonaire, Statia and Saba are Dutch public entities since October 10, 2010. The inhabitants of these islands have chosen for direct ties with the Netherlands. If you make that choice, you cannot go around shopping in Dutch legislation. In spite of strong resistance by a part of the island-population an agreement has been reached that in 2012 marriage must be open for same-sex couples. For a smooth introduction it is important that the cabinet makes an effort to promote public support.

But it appears that the cabinet is not ready to do this. I ask the government therefore again to express its support for gays and lesbians in the BES-islands and to promote public support for this legislation.

Ten years ago there was a decision for practical reasons that civil servants at the census office with moral objections were entitled to refuse conducting a marriage between partners of the same sex. Today we still see that municipalities are hiring civil servants who refuse to do this.

As far as we (the faction of D66 – ed.) are concerned, new civil servant at the census office are not allowed to refuse to conduct any marriage. If you choose to be a civil servant that conducts marriages, you have to execute the law, and you are not allowed to discriminate. We do not accept it either when a civil servant refuses to conduct marriages between partners with a certain intercultural or religious background. If new “refusal-civil servants” are no longer hired, this phenomenon will quickly become something of the past. The cabinet has to make sure that this happens.

The governance accord states that the cabinet wants to promote the emancipation of lesbian women and gay men. Prime Minister Mark Rutte holds the key to make this happen. This way he has the opportunity to give the tenth anniversary of the marriage an extra shine.”

The BES-islands have another nine months to get used to the idea that marriages will be open to all couples. St. Maarten and Curacao however, are able to execute their own game plan, and as things stand now, there is little chance that the civil code in Philipsburg or Willemstad will be adjusted any time soon to accommodate life partners with a different life style.

The scare stories that surface from time to time that the Netherlands wants to force marriage for everyone on St. Maarten is, until now, incorrect. The law makers in The Hague simply have no authority over the local civil code, so as long as there is no political majority to catch up with modern times, the status quo will remain untouched.

But starting in 2012, same sex partners in St. Maarten and Curacao will no longer have to travel to the Netherlands to tie the knot. They could simply travel to Saba or Bonaire, and under Kingdom legislation, those marriages will have to be registered in Philipsburg and in Willemstad.

That will without any doubt get moral crusaders going. But what’s the problem? People who oppose marriage between same sex partners should marry somebody of the opposite sex and let others get on with their life.


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