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Marriage Equality Reaches Tenth Anniversary--in The Netherlands

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Apr 4, 2011

Though many gay and lesbian families have been together for decades, none of them has been married longer than ten years. The Netherlands celebrated the tenth anniversary of the modern world's first legal same-sex marriages on March 31, according to an April 1 AFP article.

Since that time, about 2% of all marriages that have been granted have been same-sex couples, the article said.

Anti-gay groups claim that only 1% or 2% of the general population are gay. Other estimates put gays at 4% of the population. A few have even estimated that 10% of the population might be gay or bisexual.

In the ten years since the Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage parity, other nations have followed suit at the rate of about one per year. There are now ten countries around the globe that offer marriage equality to their citizens-- Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden, in addition to the Netherlands.

The nation celebrated its status as the first in the modern world to offer same-sex marriage equality with a wedding, the AFP article said.

"I declare you, in my position as mayor of Amsterdam, joined by the rights of marriage," said Eberhart van der Laan. The grooms were Jan van Breda and his husband Thijs Timmermans. The two wed at the Museum of History

"It is a symbolic, special day," Timmermans told the AFP. "The Netherlands is the first country where gay couples can marry. I'm proud of that, it should be normal.

"It is a pity that all those people in all those other countries still have to live undercover," added Timmermans. "It is not about being homosexual, it is about loving one another."

The article noted that a special exhibition of photos from same-sex wedding ceremonies over the last ten years was opened in the city to help celebrate and document the anniversary.

To celebrate the landmark anniversary, an exhibition was opened at an Amsterdam hotel yesterday of a selection of photographs of same-sex marriages.

The history of GLBT rights has been long and contentious in the country. A Wikipedia article notes that prior to the French conquest of the Netherlands in 1811, sex between consenting adult partners of the same gender was punishable by death. When the Netherlands regained its independence after two years of French rule, the law remained the same as under the Napoleonic code, and gay sex was not criminalized-- until the Nazis came to power and the German law against gays was imported into the Dutch criminal code.

Finally, in 1971, the last anti-gay law was repealed. Two years later, in 1973, Dutch mental health professionals stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental illness--the same year as American mental health experts set aside the view that homosexuality was a form of pathology. That same year gays were allowed into the Dutch military.

In the United States, only seven states have legalized marriage equality. In two states--Maine in 2009 and California the year before--voters rescinded those laws. Voters in thirty states have approved anti-gay constitutional amendments that place marriage equality out of reach for same-sex families.

Marriage equality has been legal in Massachusetts, the first state to extend marriage parity to gay and lesbian Americans, for seven years.

In flat contradiction to claims that gays and lesbians are "disordered" and unable to form committed, enduring life partnerships, data drawn from divorce rates after five years of same-sex civil partnerships in Britain show that same-sex couples divorce at a lower rate than do heterosexuals.

A Dec. 5, 2010 Herald Scotland article noted that following an early spike in civil partnerships by couples who had long been denied marriage parity, the rate of same-sex marriages slowed. After several years, the rate of same-sex divorces climbed from nearly non-existent to noticeable, but still far below the divorce rate for straight marriages

"The numbers are now beginning to stabilize, rather than fall," said Stonewall Scotlan head Gary Nunn. "What is a surprise is that there aren't more dissolutions. We expect this figure to go up further as time goes on and to eventually be along the same lines as heterosexual marriage."

Nunn added that the marriage-like atmosphere of civil partnership ceremonies helped close any social gap between marriage and civil partnerships.

"If all the aunties and uncles and nanas and all the family gather together then it automatically has an effect on society's attitudes," Nunn told the Herald Scotland. "It also has a normalizing effect on gay people. Children growing up aspire to find a secure relationship and get married--gay people now how this chance too."

Helene Faasen and Anne-Marie Thus were the first lesbians to be wed ten years ago in the Netherlands, the AFP article noted. The family now includes two children.

"Like many other people, we have a family, work, a house, a dog and two rabbits," Thus told the media. "In the mornings, we also have to nag our children to get out of bed and eat breakfast... it is all very normal."

"It is not the Sodom and Gomorrah many people apparently expect to result from the legalization of gay marriage," Fassen added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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