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    First Published: Before August 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
On April 1st 2001 Dutch gay and lesbian couples became legally allowed to marry. To mark the occasion six men and two women exchanged vows at Amsterdam City Hall on the stroke of midnight in a ceremony presided over by mayor Job Cohen, a former justice minister who introduced legislation last year to give gay marriages complete parity with those of heterosexuals.
Dutch senators approved the law in December, paving the way for same-sex couples to wed in a civil ceremony for the first time anywhere in the world. It also gives homosexual couples the right to adopt children as long as the children are Dutch, and couples will also have the right to a civil divorce.

So how soon before gay couples in the UK can enjoy conjugal rights?

Well don’t be sending out the invites just yet, writes Christopher Kelly. Whilst welcoming what is happening in Holland, Stonewall spokesman Sebastian Saneys says any talk of marriage here would not only miss the point, but overstep the mark.

“Generally speaking we steer clear of the use of the word marriage, we think tactically and strategically it presses the wrong buttons for everybody. What we prefer to talk about are partnership rights and having relationships recognised in areas such as next of kin, pensions and taxation.”

Gay partnerships have been legally recognised in Holland for the past two years. No such same-sex relationship rights exist in the UK. The country has only just obtained an equal age of consent. And with Section 28 still on the statute books, there’s more chance of Peter Mandelson becoming Prime Minister than there is of parliament supporting a bill that allows two men to marry.

“That’s not to say that we would be put off from doing what we think is right by the likes of Baroness Young in the Lords,” says Saneys. “What we have to recognise is that we’ve got a responsibility to lesbian and gay people to achieve change; and we must do that in the ways that we think are going to be the most affective.”

So rather than push for a marriage certificate, Stonewall opts for a partnership register. This is the same approach as that of London Mayor Ken Livingstone who's budgeted £100,000 of taxpayers' money to get it going. Whilst the practicalities have yet to be thrashed out, it’s expected that Livingstone will inaugurate the register at this year’s Pride.

It's likely that Mike Ross, 30, the deputy general manager of a gay publishing company, and his partner of 12 months Simon Robson, 37, a former RAF chef who owns a public house in Canterbury, will be the first couple on the register. They agreed to take the plunge just before Christmas.

They will be joined by Andrew Halliday, 35, who is Mr Robson’s business partner, and Kevin Ede, 28, who works at the Tate Britain gallery in London. Mr Halliday and Mr Ede have been together for three years.

The official blessing will take place at the Palm Court of the five-star Langham Hilton Hotel in the shadow of the BBC's Broadcasting House in July, and Officiating will be a woman minister from the Metropolitan Community Church. The ceremony and reception for 200 guests, complete with separate cruise honeymoons for both couples, will cost between £20,000 and £25,000.

Ken Livingstone is on the guestlist. He has even offered to officiate at the ceremony. Tony and Cherie Blair and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, have written to both couples to wish them luck.

Although legally this formal register of partnerships will have as much bite as a sock puppet, Stonewall spokesman Sebastian Saneys says the partnership register will nevertheless carry symbolical clout.

“It will increase the pressure to say that relationships between people of the same sex are valid, are recognised, do have a worth, and that society must acknowledge that.”

As well as looking to Livingstone, Stonewall has its eye on the partnership pacts operating in France. It’s currently liasing with the community and talking to government about how best to adopt a similar system over here. However, “We haven’t at this point come up with any definite firm proposals as what it is we’re going to say we want,” says Saneys.

Although those with a penchant for taffeta may have to wait a while longer until they can legally tie the knot, it’s hoped that the Dutch decision will have positive political implications for the UK.

“Britain is a fairly socially regressive society, but it does take note of what is happening in other countries, particularly of those in the EU,” says Saneys. “The more countries that do what Holland and Germany have done, the easier it is for us to make the case here.”

The Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill
First London Registrations
First Gay Weddings in Holland

 

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