Ten years ago, on 1 April 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to marry same-sex couples. The first gay marriages were officiated in Amsterdam, with the city’s mayor Job Cohen presiding over a joint ceremony for three male couples and one female couple.
Helene Faasen and Anne-Marie Thus who walked down the aisle into the history books as the world’s first legally wed lesbian couple told AFP: “We married for love, not politics. But of course we were aware it was an historic moment.”
To mark the tenth anniversary, the city’s current mayor, Eberhart van der Laan, presided over another gay marriage, this time between Jan van Breda and his partner Thijs Timmermans at the Museum of History in the heart of Amsterdam.
In the intervening decade, about 15,000 gay and lesbian couples have tied the knot, representing two percent of marriages registered in the country, as reported in a recent story on Radio Netherlands. It’s a rather low figure. Only an estimated 20 percent of 55,000 same-sex couples are in registered marriages, compared with 80 percent of opposite-sex couples. Why the rest of the same-sex couples aren’t registering their relationships is not known.
Where there’s marriage, there’s divorce. Radio Netherlands reported that about one percent of divorces in the country are same-sex.
Since April 2001, nine other countries have legalised same-sex marriages: Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and most recently, Argentina. Several more countries have legalised civil partnerships, including Britain, where gay couples enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples (e.g. adoption) in all but name.
This is not to say that everything’s all hunky-dory in all these countries. Hate-speech, hidden discrimination and even street violence continue to complicate lesbian and gay people’s lives and diminish their rights. Many young gay and lesbian persons continue to face homophobic bullying, such that this new video from Ireland, is still necessary:
(Thanks to Lee Gwo Yinn for drawing my attention to it)
Many other areas of law still treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently, e.g. access to artificial insemination. Most absurdly of all, the moment a married couple goes on holiday to a different country, their marriage may evaporate under the destination country’s laws, something that does not happen to opposite-sex marriages. Singapore is one such place, which I will touch on further below.
In the United States, the issue is mostly being dealt with at state rather than federal level and currently five states marry same-sex couples: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont; and Washington DC. As for California, the constitutional challenge that took up much bandwidth last year is still on appeal, mired in extremely technical arguments.
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This year’s Canal Pride in Amsterdam will also feature a contingent of gay soldiers from the Dutch military participating in uniform, reported Radio Netherlands on 21 March 2011, and marking another milestone.
In 2008, the Defence Minister had refused to allow members of the military to take part in the event. The minister then was from the Christian Union Party, a small strictly-Christian group. In 2009, under a different minister, this time from the larger and more liberal Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA), consent was given for them to do so as private individuals, which meant they had to remove their uniforms.
Under yet another minister this year, but one from the same CDA, that decision has been reversed. Soldiers can now take part in uniform.
According to Radio Netherlands:
The Amsterdam Canal Parade features dozens of decorated boats which tour some of the city’s famous canals, filled – often to capacity – with a ‘rainbow’ array of homosexual, bisexual and transgender participants plus their heterosexual friends. The event attracts tens of thousands of canal-side spectators. The parade is now reported to be the second most popular public event of the year in the Dutch capital.
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Meanwhile in Singapore, we’re still at stage 1, trying to get Section 377A repealed. The continuing presence of this law makes it difficult for the government to update its immigration policy for married gay couples.
Whenever a foreigner is issued an Employment Pass, his opposite-sex spouse and children can expect to get residency permits (called Dependants’ Passes) automatically. But Employment Pass-holders who are married to same-sex spouses are ignored by this policy. Their spouses do not get residency permits — I have yet to hear of any exception, despite asking around — and have to come in and out of Singapore on social visit passes, if the couple wishes to stay together, as any married couple would wish to do. After making too many social visits consecutively, the immigration department can get all uppity and refuse to allow any more entries.
Already the effect on children was already evident in at least one case I have come across. The children were given dependency passes because the Singapore government recognised the Employment Pass-holder as the legal parent of the children. But that is the working parent. The other parent with the role of care-giver to the young children was denied residency. So who was going to look after the children?
This is an extremely anti-family policy. This can be traced to simple truth: This government has no balls and despite claiming to be guided by secular principles, in actual fact kowtows to religious zealots who are out to spread hate and trample on others’ lives.
As gay marriage spreads, as gay-parented families increase in number, the contradiction between Singapore’s archaic policies and the rest of the world can only grow.