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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in the Netherlands:

Part 1: How the Dutch were the first to
legalize same-sex marriage in 2001.

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1996 - First steps:

In 1996-APR, the Dutch House of Representatives passed two resolutions. One, with a vote of 81 to 60, asked the government to submit a bill before 1997-AUG-1 which would recognize gay and lesbian relationships. It stated in part:

"There is no objective justification for the ban on marriage of couples of the same sex."

The second resolution passed 83 to 58. It called for legislation that would give equal adoption rights for both homosexual couples and single people. COC, a national gay rights group called the news "a moral victory. The editor of De Gay Krant, the country's largest gay newspaper, commented:

"We do not want a 'gay' [partial] wedding like they have in Denmark. We want a proper marriage ceremony. If we are equal human beings, we must be given the same legal civil status as heterosexuals."

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1996 - Registration of gay and lesbian partnerships: 

A law to register partnerships passed through the Second Chamber of Parliament in 1996-DEC with a vote of 104 to 46. Starting 1998-JAN-1, gay lesbian and straight couples were able to register their partnership and gain all of the rights, privileges and obligations of marriage, except for the right to adopt. Also, the divorce procedures are different for registered partnerships and married couples. The Dutch Parliament instructed the government to prepare legislation to allow gays and lesbians to marry, under existing laws. 

This legislation allowed the registration of gay and lesbian partnerships throughout the Netherlands. However, there was concern that third parties (e.g. insurance companies) could not be forced to recognize these registrations as equivalent to marriage. The Dutch cabinet appointed an independent committee of experts to study the situation.

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Year 2000: Same-sex marriage legislation is passed:

In 2000-SEP-12, the lower house passed a bill (109 to 33) which would allow Dutch citizens who are involved in same-sex relationships to marry:

"... with all the trappings, including adoption and divorce -- [they approved] a bill that gives gays rights beyond those offered anywhere else [in the world]."

Gays and lesbians who are not citizens, but who have residency permits in the country, will also be allowed to marry. 

Kees van der Staaij of the Reformed Political Party, a small Christian party, warned that this law would isolate the Netherlands from the rest of the world. He said:

"We are going in the completely wrong direction...We are ending an age-old tradition anchored in the Bible." 

One might point out that European countries ended another age-old marriage tradition anchored in the Bible many centuries ago: this was polygamy -- the marriage of one man to multiple women. No obvious disaster happened after that change. Also, although the attainment of marriage equality in the Netherlands at the turn of the century did make the country's marriage laws different from that of any other country in the world, during the next 15 years much of Europe, North America, South America, and some other countries followed the the Netherlands' lead.

Couples who already have their partnerships registered with the government will be able to convert them to full-fledged marriages. Married same-sex couples will attain all of the rights and privileges of opposite-sex married couples except for one: they will not be allowed to adopt children from overseas because of legal complications with countries that don't allow homosexuals to marry.

Initially, only a few Scandinavian and European countries will recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands. Andrew Fielding, spokesperson for the European Commission said that recognition of gay/lesbian marriages will be "entirely a matter for each member nation." 

On 2000-DEC-19, the Dutch upper house of parliament passed the two bills that had been previously approved by the lower house during 2000-SEP. Effective 2001-APR, marriage and adoption in the Netherlands became open to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. This is the first country in recent history to have legalized gay and lesbian marriages. The bills were strongly opposed by a number of Christian religious political parties. 

Same-sex couples in the Netherlands were able to obtain their marriage licenses on 2001-APR-01, and subsequently marry.

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Onno Hoes, a spokesperson for COC, a group promoting equality for gays and lesbians said:

"We're the first country in the world where there is no distinction made [in marriage] on the basis of gender." The Senate statement said: "As far as possible, homosexual marriage will have the same consequence as heterosexual marriage."

Among other things, this means that spousal support obligations would also apply to same-sex marriages.

Probably as a result of the movement on same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, the European Parliament passed a resolution during the middle of 2000-MAR which recommended that same-sex unions be granted the same legal recognition as heterosexual marriages. It called on all 15 members of the European Union:

"... to make rapid progress in the area of mutual recognition of the various forms of living together legally, but not of a conjugal character, and of legal marriages between persons of the same sex." 1,2

The vote was 265 to 125 with 33 abstentions. Some responses were: 

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family said that legislators

"... and especially Catholic parliamentarians, should not vote to support this type of legislation as it goes against the common good and the truth of man and, as a result, is in reality iniquitous."

The Vatican Council said the resolution was a:

"serious and sustained attack on the marriage-based family, a union of love and life between a man and a woman from which life naturally results ... Upon this matrimonial link, a necessary good, all societies are solidly based. To deny this fundamental and elemental anthropological truth would lead to the destruction of the social fabric."


Kate MacLean, Labor Member of Parliament and head of the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee, said that legislators were:

"elected to represent everybody in their constituencies and I do not think any other organization, whether a church or other body, has any right to interfere with that."


Ronnie Convery, spokesperson for Roman Catholic Cardinal Thomas Winning of Scotland, stated that the church's position was clear and that the Vatican is the "supreme authority" for members of the church.

Apparently referring to legislators, he said:

"Sometimes you find yourself having to choose between the church's teaching and a particular policy of a particular political party."


Cherie Blair, wife of the British prime minister, and a Roman Catholic, told a meeting of lawyers in London that the rights experienced by unmarried heterosexual couples should be extended to same-sex couples. She was quoted as saying:

"The courts for some time have been indicating that legislators need to revisit this area. I do not think this issue is going to go away." 3,4


Human Life International (HLI), an American pro-life groups, also opposed the resolution. In a remarkable, fear-based statement, HLI's president at the time -- Fr. Richard Welch -- said the resolution:

"... will drive the Western European countries and their people to self-destruction. ... Fringe liberal movements...have been extraordinarily diligent and patient in their attempts to destroy faith and the family. They begin by promoting sexual freedom through a contraceptive mentality and a false promise of greater personal fulfillment and happiness. From there inevitably comes acceptance of abortion and the treatment of unborn life as subservient to pleasure and convenience. The next step -- the one the EU resolution is promulgating now -- is the end of marriage and the legitimizing of perverse sexual unions of every type. Finally, as all of this is contrary to God and His commandments, faith dies."

He called on political leaders word-wide to "turn back this tide of death."

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This topic continues in the next essay with the impact that same-
sex marriage had during its first dozen years in the Netherlands.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Dilemma for Scottish Lawmakers: Obey Church or Party," at:
  2. "Special Report: Laws recognizing homosexual unions," at:
  3. "Tony Blair's better half had better shut up before she really gets herself in trouble with the Church over gay issue," at:
  4. "England: Support for gay rights: Prime Minister joined by his wife," at:

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Copyright © 2000 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-27
Latest update: 2015-MAY-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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