Published July 14, 2006
Ten years ago, a law was passed in Iceland that allowed homosexual couples to enter into a civil union. Four years later, in 2000, they were granted the right to adopt the biological children of their partner. On June 27, 2006, a new law was passed in the Icelandic parliament that finally placed homosexual couples on equal footing with heterosexual couples. They are now allowed to register their partnership, and have the same rights as anybody else when it comes to adoption and artificial reproduction procedures. This eliminates almost all discrimination against homosexuals in the system, with the exception of being allowed to register as a couple in religious organisations, which is still not possible. This milestone in the history of gay rights in Iceland was celebrated at the Reykjavík Art Museum on June 30th. The Prime Minister of Iceland and a member of parliament, among others, addressed the crowd. Three people who were more than just proud to attend the event discussed their thoughts on the legislation, politics and their plans to get married. They are artist Kristín Eysteinsdóttir, Hrafnkell Tjörvi Stefánsson, the managing director of Samtökin ’78 (The Icelandic Association for Lesbians and Gay Men) Hrafnkell Tjörvi, and Davíð Jóhannsson, a group leader at Síminn telephone company (Iceland Telecom).
What does this legislation mean to you? Is it important to you?
Eysteinsdóttir: This means an incredible amount to me. I now have the same options when it comes to my relationships as heterosexuals do. I have lesbian friends who, up until now, had to go to Denmark to get artificially inseminated, which is both expensive and complicated. It’s not exactly easy to drop whatever you’re doing and jump on a plane whenever you’re ovulating. I think this will have an even bigger impact on homosexual men, because they now have the option to adopt children and start a family.
Jóhannsson: Overall, I think this legislation was long overdue. It is definitely important to me, but not in praxis at this point in my life. Perhaps in the future, if I plan on having kids.
Stefánsson: Personally, I’m very happy that I live in a civilised society that is leading in the world when it comes to human rights. What pleases me most is that there was cross-political solidarity on the issue. It’s completely unique. Few other countries have come as far as Iceland has, but it’s unheard of that all political parties agree on furthering gay rights under a right-wing government. It’s proof of good will and understanding.
How was it to finally register as a couple?
Eysteinsdóttir: I went to the registry office and applied, and the lady behind the counter asked me: “Is he here with you?” I didn’t even understand what she meant at first, I thought she was referring to my father or something, but then I realised that she probably thought my partner was male. I replied that my partner is a woman, and the lady instantly apologised. She wasn’t prejudiced. She just wasn’t used to it.
What’s the next issue for the gay rights movement in Iceland?
Stefánsson: Legislation is one thing, public acceptance is another. A majority of our nation supports gay rights, but passing laws is not enough. For example, men and women are supposed to be equal under the law, but equality has still not been achieved in many cases. The same thing can be said of disabled people and those who are not of Caucasian origin. Homophobia needs to be addressed in various places, for example in sports. We also need to change things in the education system, by including different family types in the curriculum and educating people about them.
Eysteinsdóttir: I think the church is at the centre of the debate. A lot of homosexuals are religious, and everybody should have the same options. Fríkirkjan (The Independent Church) blesses homosexual marriages, setting a good example other churches should follow. A majority of our society supports gay rights, and the church should try to keep up with the people. My partner and I are getting married in August. When we tell people about it, we often get the response, “Good for you, that’s such a statement.” It makes us feel like we’re getting married for political reasons, which is not true. We’re getting married because we want to. This is an example of hidden prejudice in our society, which still exists.
Jóhannsson: I’m very pleased with the recent change in events. It’s time to stop and take a deep breath. We need to realise that perhaps we don’t always need to be fighting for something. I think we should allow this to settle before we start focusing on the next step. I’m very happy with what just happened.