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On the Spot at the World's First
Legal Same-Sex Marriages

Rex Wockner Attends as Dutch Homosexual Couples Wed

The Netherlands Leads—Honoring Adhesive Social Bonds

By Rex Wockner
International News Reports

Ton Jansen and Louis Rogmans are married

Photo by Rex Wockner
Amsterdam -- It was probably the most important moment in the history of the worldwide struggle for gay equality.

Four gay couples were legally married here April 1 under the exact same laws heterosexuals use.

It was a world first.

Several nations have registered-partnership laws under which gay couples can obtain up to 99 percent of the rights and obligations of marriage. But only The Netherlands now lets gays simply marry.

"All the other countries have marriages specially made for gay people," said Henk Krol, publisher of De Gay Krant magazine and the driving force behind the 16-year process that led to legalized marriage for same-sex couples. "What we have in The Netherlands is civil marriage open to everyone. That's the big difference. That is the news."

Amid an international media frenzy, the weddings took place at City Hall as the law became effective at the stroke of midnight. Mayor Job Cohen officiated.

As Cohen finished his opening remarks at 11:58 p.m., the audience in the City Council chambers began syncopated clapping as they waited for the room's clock to click over to 12:00. When it clicked, cheers erupted.

The ceremonies themselves took about half an hour. Cohen stood where individuals stand to address the City Council. The four couples sat in the front row of the seats where the councilors sit.

Cohen read the marriage vows once for each couple and they individually responded, "Yes." Each couple shook hands, kissed and signed documents which were then signed by the mayor.

A reception followed in the City Council foyer and the couples departed in four brightly colored Volkswagen Beetles for a party at a gay club.

"The most important thing is that we love each other like everyone loves each other and gets married. There's no difference," groom Peter Wittebrood-Lemke told this reporter. "The whole world has to learn that love is between people and not only between a man and a woman."

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Asked how marriage fits together with gay men's reputation for non-monogamy, Wittebrood-Lemke said: "Real fidelity has nothing to do with monogamy. Real fidelity is something else, something in your soul, something that attaches you to each other. Monogamy can be a sort of contract if you choose it. But if you marry you don't have to choose monogamy. You have to choose for fidelity."

His partner, Frank Wittebrood, added: "Maybe you've been told that homosexuals are not monogamous. I think we are more honest. A lot of heterosexuals are like homosexuals, but they do it in hiding. Homosexuals are more honest."

Groom Ton Jansen, 63, married his partner of 36 years, Louis Rogmans, 72.

"Marriage gives you all the rights that other married people have," he said. "Marriage is the most intimate bond two people can enter into."

Former Labour Member of Parliament Mieke van der Burg, who fought hard for the marriage legislation, said the political process was arduous.

"In the beginning, I did not believe it would pass," she said. "It was very difficult in my own political party and in the other parties. I had so many discussions with members of my own party and other parties. It was very difficult to give the arguments in favor of this."

Krol echoed: "In the beginning I never thought it would be possible to open up marriage. I thought it would be possible to have an excellent registered partnership in The Netherlands -- the best in the world -- and that's what we've had since 1998. But to open up that institution that for a lot of people is so special, well, we always thought it was reasonable, but to convince everybody that this was indeed necessary was a hard job. Especially because in the beginning it was hard to convince the gay community. They said, 'That's something for heterosexuals.'"

Asked to advise activists working for gay marriage in other nations, Krol said: "You have to discuss it over and over again with the politicians and let them think. Discuss it over and over again until they understand there's no reason not to allow it. People are against it not because they think negative about it but because they feel negative in their lower body. That's the only reason they are against it. Once they start to think, they find no reason to be against it. Peter Wittebrood-Lemke and Frank Wittebrood at the reception following their wedding
Photo by Rex Wockner

"The thing that finally got us over the hump was when we did a survey of the Dutch population proving that a large majority was in favor of gay marriage," Krol said. "Everyone in Parliament wants to do what the majority of the people want. That made the difference."

University of Utrecht Prof. Rob Tielman said it also helped that "Dutch society is the most secular one in the Western world. This explains Dutch attitudes towards voluntary euthanasia, recreational drugs, sexual self-determination, the legal right to be nude in certain public places, mandatory sex education in all schools, the lowest percentage worldwide of abortions and unwanted pregnancies, the constitutional equal treatment of gays and lesbians, the recognition of gay and lesbian parenthood, etc.," he said. "The fact that same-sex couples can marry now in The Netherlands is not a miracle but the consequence of a long history of respect for human rights based upon the principle of the right of every human being to give meaning and shape to his or her own life as long as the rights of others to human self-determination are respected."

One law change remains -- which is expected to pass shortly -- before same-sex marriages are identical to opposite-sex couplings. It will grant lesbian couples who give birth to babies automatic joint parental authority. At present, they will have to petition a court for that authority.

It may take some time before gay spouses will be able to adopt children from other nations. Not because The Netherlands has a problem with it, but because the Third World nations from which Dutch couples adopt children are presumably hostile to the idea.

Foreigners Can Marry in the Netherlands

Gay couples from other countries can get married in The Netherlands provided they have lived in The Netherlands for four months. The City of Amsterdam has said it believes that gay couples from the other 14 nations that are members of the European Union can come to Amsterdam and marry without establishing residency.

Readers of De Gay Krant magazine are offering to assist gay couples from non-European Union nations in establishing a legal address in The Netherlands so they can get married here.

"If an American couple has a permanent address in Amsterdam, they can get married," Krol said. "De Gay Krant, in cooperation with some of our readers, is willing to provide American couples with addresses in Amsterdam.

"These foreigners have to prove that they are using the Amsterdam address for at least four months," Krol said. "During these months it is possible that the City Hall will ask them to come by. If this is asked, they have to show up within three weeks. American citizens need a permit to stay that long in The Netherlands, but it is rather easy for Americans to get that permit."

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Evan Wolfson, director of the U.S. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund's Marriage Project, says that what The Netherlands has done will reverberate across the planet.

"Non-gay people throughout the world, including 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," he said.

The nations that have special partnership laws that give registered gay couples many or nearly all rights of matrimony are Denmark (and Greenland), France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and, in the U.S., the state of Vermont. A few other nations, including Canada and Hungary, grant gays many rights of marriage under common-law marriage statutes. Portugal's gay partnership law is expected to take effect later this year.

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