On June 27, 2010 Iceland became the ninth country to legalise equal marriage between all persons, regardless of gender. This was a milestone that the gay and lesbian community of Iceland had been fighting for since the mid 1980s. While Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir promptly changed her civil union to official married status as the law went into effect, the issue of same-sex union continues to be one of the most contentious and divisive ones throughout most of the world.
Taking it to Alþingi
Iceland has only recently begun making strides towards equality for their homosexual population. The nation first began recognising civil unions between same-sex couples in 1996, making them the fourth European nation to grant them. A parliamentary committee was set up in 1992 to investigate the status of lesbians and gay men in Iceland in order to reach new legislation regarding anti-discrimination laws. The committee completed their investigation in 1994 and delivered a lengthy report which, in addition to recommending new regulations for discrimination against homosexuals, unanimously agreed that homosexual couples receive the right to registered partnerships with equal benefits as heterosexual marriages. The committee was split, however, on the issue of adoption and in vitro fertilisation for same-sex couples and could not reach consensus on the matter.
At the time both Samtökin 78, Iceland’s gay rights coalition, and the Government Agency for Child Protection recommended that step-adoption be legalised for children already within same-sex couples, as it would provide important legal protection for both the child and parents. The Icelandic government did not support this and the when registered partnerships were first legalised in 1996 it did not include provisions for adoption or assisted pregnancy. It did however award same-sex couples to be awarded joint custody of children in same-sex relationships, making it the first country in the world to pass such legislation. Additionally, the National Church of Iceland did not approve of performing ceremonies for same-sex couples so civil unions could only be performed by a judge. While this caused much tension within the religious community, as parties were very divided on the issue, religious influence had little impact on the passing of the bill as no political party in Iceland has direct religious affiliation. The bill was passed in parliament with 44 votes out of 64, with one vote against, one abstained and 17 members absent.
The law came into effect precisely fourteen years prior to this year’s historical new legislation, on June 27 1996, the international gay liberation day (also known as Christopher Street Day). As the registered partnership law came into effect, so did new anti-discrimination laws that added the clause of criminalising actions of hate and persecution based on sexual orientation. The wheels of progress were now in real motion and same-sex couples began hitting up their local judges to seal the deal. In 1996 alone, eleven gay couples and ten lesbian couples entered into civil unions.
Who will save our children?
The number of civil unions over the next decade tapered off somewhat until 2006, when the next big step was made towards the equal rights of same-sex and opposite sex unions: they were finally given the right to adopt and seek assisted pregnancy. This issue had become paramount to the gay community, as the past decade had brought them more visibility and showed that many of them had children and families. As it stood, they had no legal protection for the rights of their families and were not granted the same protection for children in straight marriages. Amendments to the laws regarding adoption and assisted parentage had been put forth several times to parliament, either going nowhere or being outright rejected.
After much lobbying from Samtökin 78 and the urging of a group of members of parliament led by Guðrún Ögmundsdóttir, another government committee was set up in 2003 to further review the status of gay and straight couples to recommend reforms to the law. The main goals of their investigation were to review the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children and for lesbians to seek in vitro fertilisation, as well as to investigate the exposure and discourse given to the queer community within the education system at the time. After a two-year review process that split the committee on issues several times, the government put forward a bill to equalise the full rights of same-sex couples, granting them adoption and assisted pregnancy rights. The bill came into effect on Christopher Street Day 2006, with a huge celebration at the Reykjavík Art Museum.
We all bleed, we all love
Two years to the day later, the registered partnership bill was further amended so that members of the clergy could perform same-sex unions. At this point, the law of marriage between persons of different gender and the registered partnership bill for persons of same-sex were, on paper, exactly the same. A group of parliamentarians led by Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir proposed a bill in 2008 that argued for unifying the two laws, as many felt it was absurd to have two identical laws with different titles based on gender and sexual orientation. The bill was not brought to a vote, but the fight did not cease.
In March 2009, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights submitted a new draft of the law to parliament, which would make the law of civil unions obsolete and instead create a single marriage law. The new law eliminated the wording of the marriage law as being between a man and a woman to being between two individuals. The law was unanimously voted in on June 11, 2010 with many members of parliament expressing their support for the matter. The queer community’s lengthy fight for the full rights to love and raise a family as heterosexual people do has been won and is an example of achieving equality by democracy and persistence, blazing the trail for more countries to recognise everyone’s right to love and be loved.
Sailing Loud, Sailing Proud
Cruising for the queer community used to generally refer to trolling for tawdry, anonymous, popper-filled sex in parks and bathhouses, but some genius in the travel industry took the term to a literal level and turned gay cruises into a million dollar idea. Last year during the pride festivities, the Elding Whale Watching company threw an independent queer cruise party that turned into such a smash hit, it sold out within minutes. They had such a great time that they are throwing another one this year and decided to offer it up as an official event in the Gay Pride 2010 programme.
Eva María Þórarinsdóttir is the marketing manager of Elding and amongst the 10% of the company’s queer employees. She is also going to be DJing the cruise along with her girlfriend. She says that they are a very gay-friendly company and wanted to take part in the pride celebrations and also give back to the community that many of them are part of. “The gay cruise is very popular with the community because going on a cruise is something we do to escape our daily life,” she told us, “Here in Iceland maybe that is not the case, but it’s definitely something fun to celebrate our freedom. It will be very casual and a lot of fun.”
The cruise takes off in Reykjavík’s Old Harbour on Friday August 6 at 21:30. It sails for about an hour and a half around the city, giving attendees a nice new perspective of the city. Along with fun, danceable pop tunes they will be serving up drinks at the bar and everyone will be pretty and witty and gay! The cost is 1.500 ISK and it is recommended to book in advance.