Netherlands Ends Discrimination in Civil Marriage: Gays to Wed

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Dutch lead the world in recognition and equality for same-sex couples
March 30, 2001

(NEW YORK, March 30, 2001) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund applauds the Netherlands for becoming the first nation to allow same-sex couples to marry, conferring upon those couples full equality and responsibility in the eyes of Dutch marriage law.

Just 3 years after enacting registered partnership, which allowed same-sex couples to access most of the protections of civil marriage, last December the Dutch Parliament by large majorities passed legislation to end discrimination in marriage itself. As the law goes into effect just after midnight on April 1, 2001, same-sex couples will wed in a ceremony in Amsterdam’s City Hall.

“Non-gay people throughout the world, including here in the U.S., will see that the sky does not fall when same-sex couples are included in the protections - and the public celebration - of civil marriage,” said Lambda’s outgoing Marriage Project Director Evan Wolfson.

The Dutch action follows 10 years of steadily increasing international support for same-sex couples’ freedom to marry. Denmark enacted its own registered partnership status for same-sex couples in 1989, and was quickly followed by Norway, Greenland, Sweden, and Iceland – with a 1995 Scandinavian treaty to respect each other’s registered partnerships. France also created a form of marital recognition for same-sex couples in 1999. In legal victories abroad courts have recognized the marital nature of committed gay and lesbian relationships in Columbia, Hungary, Israel, Namibia, and South Africa. And in May 1999, the Canadian Supreme Court mandated that the definition of “spouse” must include same-sex partnerships. Still other countries are currently considering same-sex partner recognition, including Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

“The world-wide movement toward the freedom to marry is reflective of growing public support overseas and in the U.S.,” continued Wolfson. “Recent polls in Canada and Switzerland showed that a majority of the public – 53% – supports equal marriage rights. In the U.S., a 1999 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that two-thirds of Americans believe that same-sex couples will win the freedom to marry.”

“With examples like marriage in Holland, civil unions in Vermont, and growing public support here in the U.S., we can engage even more fair-minded Americans in helping end discrimination in marriage,” added David Buckel, newly appointed Coordinator of Lambda’s Marriage Project. Buckel works with a team of lawyers at Lambda who will continue to lead the movement for equal access to this central state institution.

“It’s time for the United States to get back in the lead on liberty and equality,” said Buckel. “Each state here should be moving toward equality in marriage to support all American families.”

In the United States, where to date same-sex couples are excluded from marriage in all 50 states, gay and lesbian families lack the most basic of protections, including the automatic ability to make medical decisions on a partner's behalf, visit in the hospital, inherit, have joint parenting, adoption, foster care, custody, and visitation, file joint tax returns, and share such government benefits as Social Security and Medicare. Hawaii and Vermont, however, have enacted more extensive protections for same-sex couples.

After several years of groundwork by community activists and a 1999 victory in the Vermont Supreme Court (Baker v. Vermont), that state conferred upon same-sex couples the most comprehensive set of protections offered them anywhere in the United States. A new marital status called Civil Union provides same-sex couples all of the Vermont-sponsored protections and responsibilities of marriage, but still leaves those couples unequal and with a lesser status than heterosexual couples.

Marking the occasion of the opening of the Dutch marriage laws to same-sex couples, community education and action groups across the country – such as Marriage Equality New York and California – are holding press conferences and rallies throughout the weekend of March 31. Similar celebrations marking this breakthrough are planned around the world.

The new Dutch law will require that at least one partner must be a Dutch citizen or resident – the same requirement for heterosexual couples who marry and any couple entering a registered partnership.

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Contact: Bob Pileggi 212-809-8585 x 228
Evan Wolfson 212-809-8585 x 205
David Buckel 212-809-8585 x 212



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