The Netherlands – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on September 18, 2009
This article interviews a Dutch Roman Catholic politician who had his same-sex marriage blessed by a priest, and mentions the survey which concluded that 80% of Dutch Roman Catholic priests are happy with the idea of blessing same-sex couples.
Dutch, Belgians take gay marriage in stride (Globe and Mail)
Though protected by law at home, same-sex spouses face hurdles abroad
By MICHAEL VALPY
Globe and Mail
Saturday, June 4, 2005 Page A16
AMSTERDAM — Ger Koopmans, farmer and Christian Democrat member of the Dutch parliament, vividly remembers August of 2003, the month the Vatican unleashed its global firestorm offensive against same-sex marriage.
He and his fellow MPs were two weeks away from a vote on whether to reaffirm the Netherlands’ two-year-old legislation, the world’s first, permitting two persons of the same sex to marry. A letter arrived from then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s enforcer of the faith, instructing him to behave as a Roman Catholic politician and vote No.
The letter’s implication was “that Catholic politicians are puppets. Well, I’m not a bishop, I’m an MP,” said Mr. Koopmans, sitting in his parliamentary office in the Dutch capital of The Hague, a boyish-looking 42-year-old with a don’t-push-me-around glint in his eyes.
“My partner and I decided I was not going to sit under the table. So our answer to Cardinal Ratzinger was a public marriage with all the media invited. That was our answer.”
Not entirely. There’s more.
Not only did Mr. Koopmans marry antique-shop owner Eugène Sloots, with whom he had lived for 10 years — they’d previously been satisfied with a registered partnership — the couple also had a service of thanksgiving in their Catholic parish church. And, of course, Mr. Koopmans voted Yes on the legislation, which passed with overwhelming support.
A swing and a miss for Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
The Netherlands and Belgium are still the only countries where marriage of homosexuals is encased in statutory law. The Dutch did it in 2001, the Belgians in 2003. It happened at the one moment in the modern history of both countries when conservative Christian Democrats — ironically, Mr. Koopmans’ party — were not part of the governing coalitions.
In January, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, archbishop of Toronto, publicly asked Prime Minister Paul Martin to delay for five years implementing same-sex marriage in Canada to allow for time to “observe the social experiments now under way in Belgium and the Netherlands . . ..”
The cardinal did not specify what he thought should be observed.
As a possible guide, what emerges from a week of conversations with government officials, academics, human-rights specialists and ordinary citizens in the Netherlands and Belgium is that same-sex marriage has slipped smoothly into national life in the two countries, with one or two hiccups, a question mark over the meaning of marriage and divorce statistics, some difficulties with other countries’ laws and a bit of lingering homophobia.
In his office just off Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht — the Princes’ Canal — René van Soeren, a policy adviser with the Federation of Dutch Societies for Integration of Homosexuality in the Netherlands, corrected a visitor who uses the term “same-sex marriage.”
“We don’t have same-sex marriage,” he said. “In the Netherlands, we have just marriage.”
Yesterday afternoon, psychiatrist Erik van Duijn, 33, married financial controller Jan Willem Grandia, 29, in the medieval stadhuis (town hall) of Haarlem, a 15-minute train ride west of Amsterdam.
The Dutch, observed Dr. van Duijn recently, too often still refer to the marriage of two people of the same sex as homohuwelijk — “homomarriage” — not just huwelijk, although Dutch law makes no distinction.
“I was discussing it today with a colleague, because I don’t like the word,” he said. “I mean, still after all these years, there’s separation between the two.”
Mr. Grandia’s parents and sister, from a conservative small town, did not attend the marriage ceremony or last night’s celebration.
“It’s sad,” Mr. Grandia said. “They tried to make me live a life that isn’t mine.” Added Dr. van Duijn: “His parents are friendly to me, but . . .”
Lon Williams, 34, an information-technology specialist and U.S. citizen, and his 46-year-old spouse, a German citizen, live in the Dutch city of Delft. They married in the Netherlands in September, 2001.
Mr. Williams’s spouse works in The Hague for the European Patent Office, a public international agency. After the couple married, the spouse asked the EPO to recognize their marriage but the agency, claiming extraterritorial status — and therefore not subject to Dutch civil law — said no. (The EPO, Mr. Williams said, has forbidden media mention of his spouse’s name.) At about the same time, in 2002, the couple decided to move to Austria — like the Netherlands, a member of the European Union — and Mr. Williams’s spouse applied successfully to transfer to the EPO office in Vienna. But the Austrian government refused to recognize the couple’s marital status.
“So we’ve actually had to fight both the EPO and the Austrian government,” Mr. Williams said.
To date the couple has spent more than €10,000 — over $15,000 — on legal fees.
The EPO has backed up to the point of granting Mr. Williams spousal benefits.
Their case is slowly making its way through the Austrian courts, and eventually they hope to have it argued before the European Court of Justice on two grounds: first, that nothing in EU case law says a married, same-sex couple cannot move from one EU country to another, and, second, that EU law allows a worker who moves from one EU country to another to be accompanied by a spouse.
Marriage in Belgium and the Netherlands is strictly civil. One gets married in city hall. Whatever happens afterward in church, synagogue, mosque or temple is not legal marriage.
Belgium and the Netherlands first followed the Nordic countries in legalizing same-sex registered partnerships — Belgian law even permitted related family members to register partnerships — and then changed the definition of marriage to make it open to homosexuals. The legislation passed both parliaments with comfortable majorities.
There were few protests. Church leaders, in two strongly secular societies, were largely quiescent.
A study of Dutch Catholic priests by the University of Utrecht, in co-operation with a gay magazine, found 80 per cent had no problem with blessing gay unions outside church walls (or inside, in the case of Mr. Koopmans and Mr. Sloots).
Jessica Silversmith, executive director of Amsterdam’s Anti-Discrimination Bureau, said the only incident of discrimination she knows of against a gay married couple involved two elderly spouses whose application to move into a residence providing some cleaning and meal services was refused. The complaint is being investigated.
In June, 2001, the Dutch municipal council of Leeuwarden fired civil-status registrar Nynke Eringa-Boomgaardt for refusing on religious grounds to marry gay couples. Dutch law is silent on whether civil servants can do that (Belgian law said bluntly that they can’t).
Ms. Eringa-Boomgaardt got her job back because of a procedural misstep in her dismissal, and the council since has decided it will hire only marriage registrars who will marry homosexual couples.
“In the Netherlands, there are very few problems,” Mr. Koopmans said.
Same thing in Belgium, said Sarah D’hondt, policy counsellor to Laurette Onkelinx, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister. The Belgians, Dr. D’hondt said, are inching toward approval of gay adoption, allowed in the Netherlands, and sorting out the headaches of meshing Belgian and foreign laws when it comes to divorce and marriage of gays and lesbians.
Which leaves the issue of marriage statistics and the question of whether marriage is being undermined by allowing homosexuals to wed, an argument made by those who point to the dramatic decline in marriages in both countries.
But, as Dutch demographers point out, the decline is a continuation of a trend that began before both registered partnerships were instituted and same-sex marriage became law.
What is alarming are the numbers of Dutch couples downgrading their marriages to registered partnerships because legally it’s so much easier to dissolve a registered partnership than a marriage.
“It’s an idiot side effect of changes to the law,” Mr. Koopmans said. The Christian Democrats, again dominating the Dutch governing coalition, are trying to repair it.