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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 August, 2003, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Dutch gays launch marriage manual
By Geraldine Coughlan
BBC correspondent in The Hague

Dutch gay organisations have published a marriage manual in response to the Vatican's campaign against same-sex unions.

Gay wedding in the Netherlands
Dutch gays say the manual is for people who want to be really free
The 60-page guide is aimed at gay rights activists around the world and explains how the Netherlands became among the first countries in the world to legalise gay marriages.

It offers advice to gays abroad campaigning for the right to same-sex marriages.

The guide calls on gays to challenge discriminatory laws and fight for equal rights through the courts.

"It's a fight for people who want to be really free and to give equal opportunities to everyone," said Dutch Labour Party MP Jose Smits, who together with her lesbian partner has three children.

"So, it's not simply a matter of gays who want to have the same right as heterosexuals or a moral question," Ms Smits said.

"It's a political battle for equal rights for everyone."

'Moral duty'

In July, the Vatican called on Roman Catholics around the world to oppose the legalisation of marriages between same-sex couples.

It called it a "moral duty".

Non-Catholics have also been urged to join in the campaign.

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands refused to comment on the new booklet brought out by gay organisations here, until after the bishops' conference next week.

"As bishops they should do what they have to do - we consider it, we are a Christian Democrat party. But it does not mean we take over their point of vision," said Katlien Ferrier, an MP for the senior coalition party, the Christian Democrats.

"We have our own responsibility and we are independent representatives of the people of this country in which there is a law which makes it possible for people of the same sex to get married," Ms Ferrier said.

'Important step'

The Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, performed the first same-sex wedding in the country.

He said the Netherlands took an important step - making it possible for other countries to consider opening up marriage to gays.

He said the new booklet - which is being sent to foreign gay organisations - is also intended to help authorities abroad see how they can change legislation.

Latest figures show more than 4,000 Dutch gay couples had chosen to tie the knot in a civil marriage by 2002.

The Netherlands legalised same-sex marriages in 2001.

Since then, Belgium and two provinces in Canada have allowed gays to legally marry.

Other countries - such as France, Germany and Argentina - allow homosexual couples to register their partnerships.

Dutch gay couples exchange vows
01 Apr 01  |  Europe
Dutch legalise gay marriage
12 Sep 00  |  Europe

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