In the year 2000 a revolutionary change was made to the Dutch Civil Code. The Dutch Parliament decided that same-sex partners could lawfully enter into a civil marriage.
Since April 2001 the formal civil marriage has been open, exactly the same way, to individuals of the same or different sex.
I am talking about civil wedding, not a wedding in the church.
Civil marriage is a decision of two individuals to have their mutual and enduring care formally arranged.
Civil marriage is a contract, binding both parties, but also others.
It includes a complete package of lawful rights and duties, both with regard to one another and to third parties, such as the family, pension funds, landlords, employers and tax authorities.
The Dutch legislator explicitly decided in 2000 to open up this civil marriage to same sex couples and not to opt for a separate form of marriage for individuals of the same sex.
As a result, there is no so-called ‘gay marriage’ in the Netherlands, only a universal civil marriage, a fully equal civil right within the Law, universally registered in Town Hall.
The idea to get the same relationship-rights for all couples and to change the Civil Code to that effect, did not originate from parliament or a political movement. Neither did the blueprint for opening up civil marriages come from government.
Activists and campaigners developed the idea, the concept and the realization.
Why did we go for this?
First I must admit, it started as a personal matter.
I initiated the process in 1987, looking for better rights and security for my own man, with whom I live since early 1977. My coming out was already in 1978 and our relationship was more or less accepted, also in my function as an attorney.
But in areas such as the law of succession, rent law, adoption law, pension law as well as social benefits, lasting relationships between same-sex individuals were barely recognized or respected.
This situation was socially problematic and in a sense it was also illogical.
By that time the limitation of social benefits and the possible fiscal consequences for two individuals living together were identical, both for woman and man and for same sex partners.
Cohabitation without being married was increasingly socially acceptable, but for these couples there was only the possibility of a partnership contract.
I paid from my salary the same pension contribution like my married colleagues, but my partner was not entitled to any pension rights.
Discussion about equal rights for same sex couples was going on for a number of years but no proposals were being made to make radical changes in relationship rights in the Civil Law.
In 1988 I wrote a concept for a civil marriage of same-sex individuals.
The idea was to make some changes and adjustments in the existing Family Law, while at the same time maintaining the essential elements of civil marriage and its lawful consequences.
I concluded that this was perfectly possible within the framework of civil law and such changes would barely disturb the social order in both the legal and economic sense.
But In my opinion these changes would crucially change the formalization of relationship rights in a way that would do justice to the social reality and bring equal right in an essential domain.
I also mapped out a step-by-step, long-range plan with corresponding campaigns to realize this idea.
Early summer 1988 I presented the concepts to Henk Krol, editor in chief of the magazine Gaykrant. Henk was a former official for the liberal-conservative party VVD and had a network in both the press and politics.
We decided to form a coalition, me as conceiver, concept designer and legal advisor, Krol as campaign leader. Two same-sex couples (male and female) volunteered to act as prospective marital couples, going through the many phases and steps in the long campaign. University professor Kees Waaldijk and family lawyer Loes Gijbels joined us to form a think-tank and working group directing the events in the coming years. We started in September 1988.
First our couples stepped into legal proceedings.
Many steps, legal cases, actions, media appearances and political debates later, with the help of a strong lobby and growing political support – amongst others from top politicians like Boris Dittrich, Lib-Dem, now working for Human Rights Watch and Anne-Lize van der Stoel, Conservative Liberals, finally a law was adopted in 1977 that made a formally registered partnership in the Registry Office for all couples possible. This so called Registered Partnership offered same-sex partners largely the same regulation and relationship rights as civil marriages.
However, socially and politically this Registered Partnership was seen as a ‘gay marriage’, which was not at all what I had in mind. I wanted a full equality and integration, not only acceptation and similarity. From the day the Registered Partnership was adopted, further campaigns and actions were undertaken to stimulate Parliament to take one last step: fully opening up civil marriage (as we originally intended) and creating a universal marriage for all couples.
Then developments went fast.
Thanks to the support and political involvement of Member of Parliament Boris Dittrich of the Lib Dem party and in 2000 new bills were approved in both Houses, brought by State Secretary of Justice Job Cohen (Socialist Party), later our mayor here in Amsterdam.
From April 1st 2001 article 30 of the Dutch Civil Code now reads:
‘Marriage can be entered into by two individuals of the same and different sex’.
On that day, the idea – thought up in 1988 and after 13 years of campaigns lawsuits, lobby etc- brought about a revolutionary change in our matrimonial law. Since then I introduce my partner as my husband.
The revolutionary example was followed in other countries: in Belgium in 2003 and since then also in other European countries and elsewhere in the world. Today, same-sex couples can get married in many countries worldwide.
Jan Wolter Wabeke