On Tuesday, a new law came into being in Iceland.
Althing, the Icelandic parliament, agreed upon the new law, which ensures that gay people’s rights are equal to those of straight people.
With these laws, Iceland became one of the very few countries in the world that, by law, protects the rights of their gay population as well as their straight one.
In a 2004 Gallup poll, 87 per cent of Icelanders said they believe gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to get married, and 69 per cent thought they should be allowed to get married in a church.
These numbers have risen since.
The law was agreed upon June 3, with 41 MPs for it, none abstaining and none against. However, 20 MPs did not attend the vote (most likely due to the time of year).
“Such agreement, going right across all parties, must be unprecedented in the world when it comes to the matters of gays and lesbians,” says on the website of Samtokin 78, The Association of Gay and Lesbian in Iceland.
This law goes further than the 1996 one. It allows Icelandic gay people to register their partnership, receive all the rights that follow, such as national health registry, RRSPs, taxes, inheritance, and the right to adopt each others’ children, as well as adopting a children together as a couple.
In addition, a woman who is in a partnership with another woman can now receive donor-sperm to have a baby in any national health clinique.
In addition, gay poeople now get equal rights to maternity and paternity leaves.
Since 2001, members of Samtokin 78 have steadfastly worked towards this goal, and many have placed their hand on the plough, as the Icelandic saying goes, towards bringing it to fulfilment.
Few other nations allow their gay population such rights. Within the European Union, four nations have agreed to allow gay people equal right to adopting children as straight people have: Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium.
It is therefore doubly interesting that the gay movement began later in this nation of 300,000 than in most other Western countries.
As one might suspect from the name, Iceland’s national gay right organization , Samtokin 78, was not formed until 1978.
“In order to mount an effective campaign to educate people about AIDS, this country of conservative Evangelical Lutherans had to talk openly about sex,” says Reed Ide in an article entitled Gay Iceland.
“Or, in the words of Iceland’s queer pop icon Pall Oskar, “They had to start talking not just about their own sex, but about other peoples’ sex,” Ide added.
The result was both swift and great — as Tuesday’s law change proves.
Tuesday was the international day of the rights of gay people and when the law became a reality, gays and straight people alike celebrated throughout the country
August’s Gay Pride is a larger event in Reykjavík than in most other capitals. Tens of thousands of march and participate in festivities that stretch over three days.
It’s a weekend of parties, cultural events, and, of course, a grand parade, which ends in the city centre with a gala program of speeches and international entertainment.
In 1999, a group of 1,500 attended Iceland’s first pride celebration, but in the last couple of years, more than 40 thousand people attend the event.
That is more than 10 per cent of the nation’s population!
Furthermore, two years ago, Thorvaldur Kristinsson, then chairman of Samtokin 78, received Iceland’s highest award for his contribution in fighting for the rights of gays and lesbians in Iceland.
Thorvaldur is well known for his work, but receiving the order also meant a great deal to the whole gay and lesbian community in Iceland.
In addition, the Icelandic National Lutheran Church recently asked the bishop to allow the marriage of gay people.
This has not been agreed on yet, and a large hindrance is that the bishop himself is against it — which proves of course that despite new laws and most people’s opinions, the old prejudges still thrive here.
However, the majority of the national church’s priests agree with the church board’s request, so presumably, it’s only a question of time.
Sigrún María Kristinsdóttir is an Icelandic/Canadian writer, who until recently lived in the Yukon, but now resides in Reykjavík.