Iceland – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on August 26, 2009
From: SSO, 23.06.09:
In January this year the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, asked the Social Democrat Alliance to form Government with the Left-Green Movement, thereby ending 18 years of dominance by the right-leaning, Independent party. Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir was named the new prime minister.
At the subsequent national election in April, Sigurdardottir became the modern world’s first elected openly gay leader.
Reykjavík-born Lárus, 33, is the executive director of the country’s lobby group, Sömtokin ’78.
“In Iceland, we embrace diversity and respect the freedom of the individual. In leaders we look for their qualities rather than trying to identify their personal characteristics. Actions and good decision-making define good leaders, not their characteristics,” Lárus said.
“Iceland is a small but nevertheless cosmopolitan community. Due to the limited population, chances are everyone knows a gay person and hence knows firsthand we are OK.”
Iceland has recently been plagued with financial difficulties sparking the resignation of the previous Government. The International Monetary Fund bailed out the Icelandic banking system, preventing the nation from going bankrupt.
Lárus attributes Sigurdardottir’s election victory not just to the economic situation but also to her long-standing reputation.
“Sigurdardottir has been a very popular politician for decades. She has fought a hard and vocal campaign to ensure the living standards of the ‘weakest’ citizens were satisfactory. When the leader of Johanna’s party resigned earlier this year, she became the obvious choice due to her vast experience and popularity,” he said. “The victory of the SD, led by Johanna, had probably most to do with the collapse of the Independent party and the SD’s policy of joining the European Union.”
In 1996, the country legislated for registered partnerships, followed by adoption legislation a decade later. Lárus believes same-sex marriage is now only a few months away.
“All the political parties in Parliament have declared their will to extend these laws. Today people can get married in church, but we have two separate laws: one for heterosexual people and one for gay people,” he said.
“It is only a matter of time when one law will apply to all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Over the past 31 years Sömtokin ’78, which now has over 1000 members, has been pivotal in achieving equal rights.
“S78 has undeniably had a key role in this process, but it has only achieved what we enjoy today because of a close collaboration and understanding with other important organisations and political parties. Through that collaboration S78 has persuaded the political parties to incrementally improve the legal situation for gay people,” Lárus said.
“My group’s aims are to ensure every gay, lesbian, bi and transgender person has equal rights by law and to make sure they also thrive. S78 also aims at making gay life in Iceland richer and more diverse.”
As a country so accepting of diversity, Lárus believes that other countries can use Iceland as an example.
“Discrimination is never an ideal way of achieving the best results. Diversity is the most likely way to foster the best ideas.”