Council officials must in future perform marriages for all couples, straight or gay. A majority in parliament want an end to officials refusing to officiate.
Public officials who refuse to marry same-sex couples on principle have been a source of controversy in the Netherlands for years.
Now Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party has lent its weight to a bill to stop these ‘refuseniks’. That means there will be a majority in the Lower House for a motion submitted by Green Left compelling public employees to perform marriages for all couples. Green Left MP Ineke van Gent:
“This has been going on for ten years. Ever since same-sex civil marriage became legal, council officials have been able to refuse to perform them. I think it’s good news that we’re putting an end to this kind of discrimination.”
The cabinet, however, thinks it’s okay for councils to hire officials who refuse to marry same-sex couples. They don’t think you can force someone who may have difficulty as a result of his or her religious convictions. Councils must have at least one official who is prepared to perform gay marriages.
The cabinet could in theory ignore the Lower House, but then it will have problems with the Freedom Party. The party has a formal agreement with the minority coalition to provide parliamentary support, but says it will introduce its own motion to abolish the phenomenon of marriage refuseniks. The LGBT rights organisation COC is pleased with parliament’s stance. Vera Bergman of the COC says:
“We assume the cabinet will have to accede to the wishes of the Lower House. I can’t imagine it not listening to such a broadbased motion. People deserve a neutral government, one that doesn’t make any distinction on the grounds of gender, faith, race or sexual orientation.”
The COC has compiled a list of the municipalities and officials that have refused to perform same-sex marriages. It contains 104 officials in 57 municipalities. Many of these are in the Dutch Bible Belt, the region in the east of the Netherlands where many Christian fundamentalists live.
Three of the refuseniks are in the northeastern city of Groningen, but they will not be working as marriage officials after 2014. The city council has decided not to extend their contracts. The COC says this is not enough - it wants a legal ruling:
“This has to be part of legislation. The minister has given local authorities too much room to decide for themselves. That would mean we’ll be saddled with refusenik officials for a very long time. There is massive support in parliament to put an end to this. It would be a strange development if the cabinet didn’t listen.”