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Shows the way for gays

Analysis: While Norway has become a slowdown in the gay fight, South Africa, Spain and Canada give gays the right to marry.


[progress]] 1. December 2006 becomes an anniversary in the history of equality: From then on, South Africa's gays have in practice equal rights as heterosexuals to marry.

Quite probably first as the fifth country in the world. But it became a new dimension when South Africa's parliament 14. November voted for gay marriage with 230 votes against only 41: An officially approved marriage is now defined as gender independent in the former apartheid state.

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop of the Anglican Church, has supported the fight for gays to have equal rights under the law. So did Nelson Mandela's ruling African National Congress (ANC), which after discussion stands together to support lay minorities. It is somewhat historical that the majority group that was suppressed under the white minority dictatorship up to 1994 now gives a sexual minority the same rights as the majority.

Many conservative groups in South Africa protested before the decision. Equally, politicians resisted the pressure. The South African Constitutional Court then also concluded that 1. December 2005's banning gay marriage "represents a brutal legal statement that same-sex couples are outsiders and that their need for affirmation and protection of their relationships as human beings is worth less than for heterosexual couples."

Or put it another way: Repression is no better than racial repression. These are nevertheless radical thoughts in 2006, especially compared to Norway. For in this country, where gay marriage is prohibited and only "partnership" is allowed, such equality is far ahead.

Bekmelem Orheim

Admittedly, Norway's largest government party, the Labor Party, has a national assembly resolution on common marriage law for gays and heterosexuals. And Minister for Children and Equality Karita Bekkemellem Orheim (Ap) said early on that she wants to work for such marital equality. But in practice it will take many years. 31. In May, the Minister admitted that the work on the new marriage law was more "complicated" than first thought, and that she will not be able to submit a parliamentary report until at the earliest in 2008. So the specific legislative amendments need to be made so that Norway can follow South Africa's footsteps at the earliest during the parliamentary period 2009-2013.

And maybe not then, because of three parties that, regardless of the election result, will sit in a government: the Center Party, the Christian People's Party and the Progress Party. In today's red-green government, admittedly Ap and SV are ready for gay marriage, but it does little help when the Soria Moria Declaration asks Sp politicians freely on the issue. When NRK Dagsrevyen last year stated that the new government would give gays the right to marriage and adoption, Åslaug Haga stepped out and resigned:

"The Day Review has no basis at all to say that the coming government will rely on gender-neutral marriage legislation," Haga told NTB.

Municipal minister Haga's party traps are probably another reason why Orheim had to declare that the gay case had suddenly become so steep and complicated. Haga's gay resistance made the Christian Weekly Magazine 24. October this year gave her six dice and named her the government's foremost minister. The government must shoot many wolves and create many peasant millionaires in rural Norway before SP politicians advocate gay marriage rights.

And the choice in 2009 will hardly improve the situation. Ap now flirted with KrF to secure future power. As Trond Giske told VG: "The fight for the rights of gays is not about fighting the KrF."

For Dagfinn Høybråten would rather let the hell snow down than compromise on its well-chosen gay resistance. And Aps power strategist Martin Kolberg will not risk destroying red-green-yellow power alliances before 2009. If it was not he who advised Orheim to stay low with new gay proposals right now, then he will at least do so in the future so as not to lose Sp and KrF to Frp.

Frps gay code

For Frp may become the leading government party from the fall of 2009. And then it becomes outdated with same-sex marriage for the foreseeable future, unless Norwegian voters suddenly become extremely more liberal. The homoliberal forces on the bourgeois side, in the Left and the Right, are also put into power political chess by the gay opposition in Frp and KrF.

Norway decriminalized homosexuality very late, first in 1972 – 163 years after Belgium and 90 years after Japan. Norway then came to the forefront by passing the Gay Partnership Act in 1993, but now the country is stagnating on a global scale. The reason is also that Norway still has something as unusual as a «state church», which means further and special Norwegian complications in granting gay marriage rights: Should the state by a new equal marriage law then be able to force its own conservative employees priests to ordain gays? A complete solution for Norwegian gays can hardly come before the simultaneously ongoing debate on the separation of church and state is over. And that means that Norwegian gay marriages may not become relevant until after 2013 sometime.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is rolling forward. Both in the political debate in Romania this autumn, and the government publishing house in Taiwan in 2003, gay marriage has been more prominent than in Norway now. And even the former arch-Catholic Spain – which was a poor dictatorship under Franco until 1975 – has become more liberal than Norway after they introduced gay marriage last year.

Homse sex among animals

In South Africa, the gay struggle can be seen as part of, and extension of, the anti-apartheid struggle, which includes large parts of the church. As this example shows: In the midst of the apartheid era of the 1980 century, pastor Hume Maxwell started the first gay-friendly "multicolored" church in South Africa. In this way, South Africa's decision has more radical and symbolic weight than the pioneering decision in the Netherlands in 2001. In the ultra-liberal Netherlands, drugs, prostitution and euthanasia are allowed: Refusing to marry in such a context would clearly be a discriminatory assault. Therefore, in more legally conservative countries, such as Norway and South Africa, an equal marriage law for gays becomes more sensational.

However, South Africa's revolutionary gay marriage does not come entirely by itself. First, South Africa's Charter of Fundamental Rights is based on Canada's 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The difference is that South African politicians in 1994 were more radical, thus including sexual orientering as a ground for discrimination. Second, it is worth noting that the person who secured gay marriage in the United States' first state, Massachusetts in 2004, was the South African-born judge Margaret H. Marshall. The global exchange of ideas is thus in full swing.

It is often the alleged "unnatural" of gays used by conservative forces in Norway to deny this lay minority full state rights. But then they have not been to the exhibition "Towards the Order of Nature", which opened at the Natural History Museum in Oslo in October. There it is shown that homosexuality is both common and natural in the animal kingdom. Yes, actually crucial for the dwarf chimpanzee to survive. Homosexuality is registered with 1500 animal species worldwide.

Nevertheless, more than one exhibition is needed to secure gay equality rights in Norway, too

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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