Finland: Marriage equality bill divides Parliament

23 Mar 2012

Finland Flag

Initiative would also give same-sex couples full adoption rights

The Finnish Parliament held a preliminary debate on Wednesday on a legislative initiative for a law that would give equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. The initiative will now go before the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, where its passage is uncertain.

Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party), the first signatory of the initiative, defended it passionately in the debate. "This initiative is aimed at dismantling a system that causes inequality, in which couple relationships are divided into A and B categories", Stubb said. "There is no reason not to enact a legislative change that has no negative effects and does not take anything away from anyone else."

Finns Party MP James Hirvisaari asked why the present system of registered civil unions was not enough for gay couples. "Homo-marriage deeply hurts the feelings of citizens, or at least those of a very large proportion of the people, by desecrating a sacred institution between a man and a woman", Hirvisaari said.

The proposed change would apply primarily to civil marriages; religious groups would be free to decide whether or not to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. The initiative would also allow same sex couples to adopt children. Currently same-sex couples are allowed "internal adoption" within a family - that is, one of the members of such a relationship has the possibility of becoming a legal parent of the biological child of his or her partner. "By offering the possibility for marriage also to couples who are of the same gender, society shows that these relationships are also worthy of recognition for the same reasons as marriages between men and women", the signatories point out.

After initial plenary debate the initiative will move on to the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee. "I hope that sense and respect for equality will win out in the Legal Affairs committee, and that the full Parliament will get a chance to pass equal marriage this year", said Green MP Anni Sinnemäki. "If this initiative is buried anonymously in the committee, it is a clear statement", said Lasse Männistö (Nat. Coalition Party). "It would indicate that there was not enough courage to bring the matter to a vote, and an anonymous decision not to deal with it would better serve the wishes of a majority of MPs. Only through a vote will people get to know what their representatives feel", Männistö continued.

Unanimously behind the initiative are the MPs of the Green League's parliamentary group, the Left Alliance, as well as the two-member Left Group. Antti Kaikkonen was the only Centre Party MP to back the initiative, and there were no signatories from the Christian League or the Finns Party.

The Legal Affairs Committee will decide whether or not the bill will be brought before the full Parliament. The committee's chairwoman Anne Holmlund (Nat. Coalition Party) does not expect that to happen, nor does she feel that it should. She says that the issue is complicated, it has not been preceded by a wider debate in society, and it is not included in the government's policy programme. A rule of thumb is that legislative initiatives are brought forward for debate if more than 100 MPs sign it.

The marriage equality initiative has only 76 signatories among all MPs, and only six of the 17 members of the Legal Affairs Committee have signed it. If a legislative initiative is not moved forward for debate, it remains dormant and ready for debate in case the government puts forward a proposal on the matter.

(via Helsingin Sanomat)