Same-sex marriage in the Netherlands

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Same-sex marriage
Performed nationwide in:
Performed in some regions in:
Canada: BC, MB, NL, NS, ON,
United States: MA
Other countries and regions:
Canada: AB, NB, NT, NU, PE
South Africa
United States: CA NY
See also
Civil union
Domestic partnership
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Registered partnership

On January 1, 1998 registered partnerships (Dutch: geregistreerd partnerschap) were introduced in law in the Netherlands. These were meant for same-sex couples as an alternative to marriage, though they can also be entered into by opposite-sex couples, and in fact about one third of the registered partnerships between 1998 and 2001 were of opposite-sex couples. For the law, registered partnerships and marriage convey the same rights and duties, especially after some laws were changed to remedy inequalities with respect to inheritance and some other issues.

Marriage Legislation

Through the Act on the Opening up of Marriage, marriage itself was opened to same-sex couples on April 1, 2001; as well as adoption within the Netherlands (see below for more information on adoption).

As early as the mid-eighties, a group of gay activists, headed by Henk Krol - currently the editor-in-chief of the Gay Krant - asked the government to allow same sex couples to marry. Parliament decided in 1995 to create a special commission, which was to investigate the possibility of same-sex marriages. At that moment the Christian Democrats for the first time since the introduction of full democracy weren't part of the ruling coalition. The special commission finished its work in 1997 and concluded that civil marriage should be opened up. After the elections of 1998, the government promised to tackle the issue. In September 2000 the final legislation draft was debated in parliament.

The marriage bill obtained a majority of 109 against 33 votes in the Lower House of Parliament. The Upper House approved the bill on December 19, 2000. Only the Christian parties, which held 26 of the 75 seats at that time, voted against the bill. Though they are now the majority party in the present (2005) ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats have not shown the slightest inclination to revert the law.

The main article in the Act changed article 1:30 in the existing marriage law (in the Civil Code) into:

Een huwelijk kan worden aangegaan door twee personen van verschillend of van gelijk geslacht.

(A marriage can be contracted by two people of different or the same sex)

At the stroke of midnight April 1, 2001, four same-sex couples were married by the Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. He specially became a registrar to officiate the weddings. A few months before, Mayor Cohen was the junior minister of Justice in the Government and responsible for putting the new marriage and adoption laws through parliament.

Same-sex marriages and religion

There was strong opposition from fundamentalist religious groups to the introduction of same-sex marriage (see e.g. Khalil el-Moumni). After the parliament legalized same-sex marriage the Protestant Church of the Netherlands decided that individual churches have the right to decide whether or not to bless other relationships between two persons as a union of love and faith for the face of God; in practice many churches will conduct these ceremonies. [1] (, [2] ( (Both in Dutch) [3] ( (In English)

Objections by registrars

Local governments are obliged to perform civil same-sex marriages, and they can require their personnel to marry same-sex couples; however if their existing contract did not state this requirement, they cannot be fired over a refusal to do so.

Some local councils choose not to require registrars who object to same-sex marriage to perform ceremonies; though this is usually a decision made by Christian political parties, it can be said that it would not benefit a same-sex couple if the official performing the marriage was unhappy doing so, potentially ruining the occasion.

Same-sex marriages internationally

The rules about nationality and residence are the same as for any other marriage in the Netherlands: at least one partner must either have Dutch nationality or reside in the country. There is no guarantee that a same-sex marriage will be recognised in other countries. Most likely it will be accepted in those and only those countries that have themselves a form of civil union for same-sex couples.

Netherlands Antilles and Aruba

It is not possible for same-sex couples to marry on the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba. Whether a Dutch same-sex marriage is recognised on the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, is to be seen. The Aruban government has refused, but a judge has ruled that it should. The Aruban government has appealed. The Dutch government interprets the laws of the kingdom such that NA and Aruba should recognize the marriage, but has announced that it will accept the decision of the higher court.


According to provisional figures from the Netherlands Central Bureau of Statistics, for the first six months same-sex marriages made up 3.6 percent of the total number of marriages: a peak of around 6 percent in the first month followed by around 3 percent in the remaining months: about 2100 men and 1700 women in total.


Same-sex marriages are fully equivalent to opposite-sex marriages in the Netherlands with apparently two restrictions relating to adoption of children. First, if a married lesbian has a child, her wife will not count as the child's father or mother; unless and until she adopts the child, she will count for the law as a stepmother; on adoption she will be (the second) mother. Second, Dutch law provides some exception for other nations' laws regarding international adoptions for Dutch same-sex couples; formally no adoption of foreign children by a same-sex couple is allowed. These restrictions are currently being challenged by some MPs.

See also

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