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The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague
"Gay couples have been able to register their partnerships for the past two years"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jane Little
examines the international campaign for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships
 real 28k

Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 00:44 GMT 01:44 UK
Dutch gay couples exchange vows
Helene Faasen, left, and Anne-Marie Thus
Helene Faasen (left) and Anne-Marie Thus: Legally wed
Four gay couples have exchanged wedding vows in Amsterdam's City Hall under a new Dutch law that recognises their civil marriage.

The legislation grants them the same rights as heterosexual couple, including the right to adopt children.

International gay rights groups have welcomed the change as a big step forward.

We are so ordinary, if you saw us on the street you'd just walk right past us

Anne-Marie Thus
It is part of a multi-national campaign, which is challenging the traditional definition of marriage.

The ceremony took place at midnight on Saturday (2200 GMT), with Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen officiating at the weddings of the four same-sex couples - three male and one female.

Government ministers were present and it was broadcast live on national television.

Liberal attitude

All four couples have cohabited for several years and the women, Anne-Marie Thus and Helene Faasen, have a nine-month-old son, born through artificial insemination.

"We are so ordinary, if you saw us on the street you'd just walk right past us," Anne-Marie Thus was quoted as saying.

"The only thing that's going to take some getting used to is calling her 'my spouse'," she said.

Gay couple, Gert Kasteel (left) and Dolf Pasker
The Dutch have had a liberal attitude towards gays

The couples were welcomed by applause from family and supporters as they arrived for the ceremony, but a handful of demonstrators protested against what they called the unnatural union.

"We hope these people will chose to return to the Lord," said Cor de Vries, a 30-year-old protester.

Both women were dressed in wedding gowns with long trains, while four of the men wore formal suits and bow ties, and one couple wore leather.

Burst of applause

Standing around a semi-circular conference table, the couples held hands as Mayor Cohen went one-by-one asking if he or she accepted his or her partner as spouse.

I'm gay, but even I'm going to have to get used to this.

Philip Vos
Marriage witness
"And now we have the marriage of two men and two women," Mr Cohen concluded as the packed meeting hall burst into applause.

But all eight newlyweds stood awkwardly for several minutes, unsure what to do until Mr Cohen told them that they could congratulate each other, then they kissed and embraced.

Mr Cohen distributed a ring to each partner, then asked each to sign a marriage registry.

Liberal attitude

One witness, Philip Vos, remarked on the momentousness of the occasion:

"I'm gay, but even I'm going to have to get used to this."

Gert Kasteel, left, and Dolf Pasker
Each of the couples exchanged rings

The Netherlands has traditionally held a liberal attitude towards gays, which persists despite opposition to the new law by religious parties.

But the law is restricted to Dutch nationals, which means foreigners cannot hope to take advantage of it.

The mass wedding ceremony was promoted by Henk Krol, editor of Gay Krant magazine, which led the equal rights campaign.

The Dutch marriages have fuelled campaigns elsewhere for the recognition of same-sex marriages.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany approves 'gay marriage'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Dutch legalise gay marriage
08 Mar 00 | Americas
California rejects gay marriage
12 Feb 00 | Americas
Canada unveils equality law for gays
18 Sep 00 | UK
Gay marriage: In the pink
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