Friday, June 01, 2018

Today In 2003, Belgium Becomes 2nd Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Mayor of Liège, Willy Demeyer, officiating the wedding of a gay couple.
Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage today, June 1, in 2003. There are now 26 countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

In the late 1990s, gay rights organizations in Belgium lobbied for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Belgian civil law did not explicitly require that two people be of opposite gender to be able to marry, as this was considered self-evident. 

In 1995, a bill was introduced in Parliament to provide for a legal framework of "cohabitation agreements." It was mostly intended as a response to the lowering marriage rates, rather than giving rights to same-sex couples. In 1998, the bill was changed to "statutory cohabitation"  and finally voted on. The Chamber of Representatives approved it by a 98–10 vote. The Act of 23 November 1998 gave limited rights to registered same-sex and opposite-sex couples. However, being a couple is not a requirement to make a declaration of statutory cohabitation; relatives could do so too. The law went into effect January 1, 2000.

The election programmes of the SP (Flemish Social Democrats), Agalev (Flemish Greens) and VLD (Flemish liberals) for the June 13, 1999, elections included the aim to legalize same-sex marriage.  

As the first same-sex marriage in the Netherlands was performed on April 1, 2001, the Belgian Government began considering it as well. On June 22, the Council of Ministers formally approved opening marriage to same-sex couples. In September, the largest opposition Christian People's Party (CVP) held a party convention where they rebranded into Christian Democratic & Flemish (CD&V), with a renewed party platform, including the aim to legalize same-sex marriage, put forward by their youth wing.

On November 30, 2001, however, the Council of State gave a negative legal opinion on the bill, saying that "marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman." LGBT organizations and government ministers criticized the opinion and said they would proceed with the legislation. The Council of Ministers formally approved the government bill on December 8, 2001, and submitted it to the Chamber of Representatives on March 14, 2002, where it faced a Justice Committee overloaded with bills to consider. In May 2002, the government bill was then withdrawn from the Chamber and instead introduced as a private member's bill (which does not require opinions by the Council of State) in the Senate by the group leaders of the majority parties.

As Minister Aelvoet resigned on August 28, 2002, and elections were to be held in June 2003, the fate of the bill was unclear. Some politicians also accused Philippe Monfils (MR) of deliberately stalling the bill. Nevertheless, new momentum was gained at the start of the new parliamentary year in October 2002. The Senate Justice Committee held hearings and voted 11–4 to approve the bill. It passed in the full Senate on November 28, 2002, with 46 votes to 15  and on January 30, 2003, the bill passed the Chamber of Representatives by 91 votes to 22.

King Albert II signed and promulgated the bill on February 13, 2003, and on February 28 it was published in the Belgian Official Journal and came into force on 1 June.

Marion Huibrecht and Christel Verswyvelen celebrate their marriage in Antwerp, Belgium, June 6, 2003. Huibrecht and Verswyvelen became the first same-sex couple to marry in Belgium, celebrating 16 years of official partnership with wedding vows during their civil ceremony.
The first female couple married on June 6, 2003, and the first male couple on June 13, 2003, both in Kapellen near Antwerp.

According to the Belgian Official Journal, approximately 300 same-sex couples were married between June 2003 and April 2004 (245 in 2003 and 55 in 2004). This constituted 1.2 percent of the total number of marriages in Belgium during that period. Two thirds of the couples were male and one third female. From 2003 through 2014, records show that more than 23,500 same-sex couples married in Belgium, which is about 2.5 percent of the total marriages.

The same-sex marriage law did not originally permit adoption by same-sex partners, and as birth within a same-sex marriage did not imply affiliation, the same-sex spouse of the biological parent had no way to become the legal parent. This was changed in  2006.

Another legal inequality compared to heterosexual couples still existed with regards to children: the husband of the biological mother is automatically legally recognized as the father (by article 135 of the Civil Code), but this was not the case in a same-sex couple for the wife of the mother. To be recognized as the co-mother, she had to complete an adoption procedure until the law was changed in 2015.

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 77 percent of Belgians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, and 20 percent were against.

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