Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sweden moves on from civil unions

Sweden has a well-deserved reputation for equality. In 1995 they were the third country in the world (after Denmark and Norway) to legally recognise same-sex partnerships. But like NZ's civil unions, that recognition is not seen as going far enough. So now, they're pushing on to true equality, with an amendment tabled in the Riksdag to gender-blind their marriage law. The amendment has overwhelming support, with only the Christian Democrats opposing it, and it is expected to become law by May 1st. That will make them the 7th country in the world to recognise full same-sex marriage (again, behind Norway).

So, will the same happen here? Most likely - but the pressure may be less. In Sweden, marriage is legally performed by the church, not the state, so a side-effect of their parallel implementation is that registered partnerships are only available to same-sex couples and may not be performed in a church. Here, our Civil Union Act mirrors our long tradition of civil marriage, with venue and celebrant up to the participants. It is also gender-neutral (and quite popular amongst straight couples I know). So, without the practical issues and resulting glaring inequalities they produce, the only driver in New Zealand is principle: that gays are still legally "seperate but equal" (which isn't really). And given the high degree of practical equality enjoyed through civil Unions, that's probably not going to be particularly strong. Most likely, the Marriage Act will be gender-blinded next time it is reviewed (which could take decades); OTOH, there's nothing stopping anyone from bringing a member's bill to do it sooner...