On Friday, Iceland’s lawmakers voted to support a widening of the country’s definition of marriage so as to include same-sex couples. Of the 63 lawmakers in parliament, 49 approved the measure while none opposed it.
The Althingi parliament voted 49 to zero to change the wording of marriage legislation to include matrimony between “man and man, woman and woman,” in addition to unions between men and women.
Iceland, a socially tolerant island nation of about 320,000 people, became the first country to elect an openly gay head of state in 2009 when Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir became prime minister after being nominated by her party.
“The attitude in Iceland is fairly pragmatic,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political scientist at the University of Iceland. “It (gay marriage) has not been a big issue in national politics — it’s not been controversial.
Iceland repealed laws criminalizing homosexuality in the 1940s. In 1996 it widened it’s registered partnership law to include same-sex partners and in 2006 same-sex couples were given the same parenting rights, responsibilities and adoption rights that were afforded straight couples.
With the passage of this new legislation also comes the decision to stop issuing licenses for civil partnerships. From now on, marriage will be the only recognized union for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, making same-sex couples truly equal in the eyes of the law.
The bill will now be sent before Iceland’s president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson for ratification, but this is considered only a formality given that the legislation has met virtually no resistance, even from religious quarters.
Indeed, while the change in the law says that “ministers will always be free to perform [gay] marriage ceremonies,” it expressly states that they will “never [be] obliged” to do so.
Iceland’s Protestant church is still debating whether it should recognize same-sex unions, but during a meeting of religious leaders in April, 91 out of the 125 attending theologians and priests voted to support the equal marriage bill. The matter has now been referred to the committee on rights and dogma with the committee’s response still being waited on.
Regardless, with the bill signed, Iceland will join Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Belgium, Sweden and Portugal in allowing gay marriage.
Argentinian lawmakers are currently examining the issue of gay marriage, while Nepal’s lawmakers are busy hammering out a new constitution that will grant gay marriage rights.
Iceland’s gay marriage law is expected to go into force as early as June 27.
Congratulations to Iceland!
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