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The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
"Marriages of same-sex couples will be almost identical to those of heterosexual couples"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Dutch legalise gay marriage
Gay activists Lei Lennaerts,left, and Mark Wagenbuur, right.
Celebratory kiss: Lei Lennaerts,left, and Mark Wagenbuur, right, greet the new legislation
The Dutch Parliament has approved a bill giving gay marriages the same legal status as heterosexual marriages.

Gay married couples now have complete parity of rights.

Another bill passed at the same time gives them wider rights to adopt Dutch children.

Until now a gay couple had only been able to register their partnership, although one church in the country has recognised gay marriages since 1986.

The bill was passed by a large majority and its supporters say it gives gays better rights than anywhere else in Europe.

Scores of people packed into the public gallery to witness the vote, which was taken by a roll-call at the insistence of a small Christian party which opposes the measure.

Applause

When the last vote was cast lawmakers thumped their desks and spectators applauded and embraced.

The final margin was 107-33 votes.

A member of the Democrats 66 party, Boris Dittrich, a supporter of the bill, spoke during what he described as "the most moving debate" of his career.

He said the law "acknowledges that a person's sex is not of importance for marriage."

Approval

One gay man who went to parliament with his partner to watch the vote, Mark Wagenbuur, said: "I'm very happy. What happened today represents changes in our society."

He and his partner are planning to get married, but they say they have a small technical hitch - they are not sure who should propose to whom.

The law should come into effect early next year.

Two years ago the Dutch passed a law allowing same-sex couples to register their union and claim certain economic benefits from the partnership such as pensions, social security and inheritance.

The new legislation goes further, allowing marriages to take place in town halls and couples to adopt Dutch children.

They will also be able to divorce through the courts, just like heterosexual couples.

Travel trouble

Elsewhere in Europe, Norway and Sweden allow gay couples to register their partnership whilst Denmark was the first country to allow gay marriages in 1989.

But some opponents to the bill fear that the Netherlands' position at the vanguard of gay rights will isolate the country.

Kees van der Straaij of the Reformed Political Party says the bill will create "a world without foundations┐ where the historical understanding of marriage is torn from its roots."

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has already proposed offering legal help to Dutch couples who run into trouble in countries where homosexuality is still illegal.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | Americas
Vermont's gays win parity
30 Mar 00 | Americas
US rabbis approve gay partnership
08 Mar 00 | Americas
California rejects gay marriage
12 Feb 00 | Americas
Canada unveils equality law for gays
01 Feb 99 | Europe
Protest at 'gay marriage' plans
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