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20 Years Ago, These Brides Made LGBTQ History. Where Are They Now?

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Apr 07, 2021

I cannot believe it's 20 years ago that the first same sex marriage occurred.  It has taken so long everywhere for same sex marriages to be recognized. 

The first lesbian couple to be married took place in the Netherlands.  This couple originally met on a blind date 20 years before they actually reconnected and started their courtship that resulted in the first lesbian marriage 3 years thereafter.  However, their path to a true legal marriage took some time and like other countries, was not offered immediately.  Their first ceremony was technically a registered partnership, which was the best they could do at the time, while one of them was pregnant with their first child.  However, the partnership registry did not give parental rights to the non-biological parent, notwithstanding the “union”.  In fact, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to this version of marriage as “a skim milk marriage”. 

When this first couple’s child was born, the non-biological mother had no legal connection, claim or rights to this child.  It wasn’t until the Netherlands enacted a new law, which came into effect on April 1, 2001.  This couple was the only lesbian couple to be married on the first day of the law’s enactment with a ceremony performed by the mayor of Amsterdam. 

Based upon the couple’s own recollections, they were thrust into the forefront of a media frenzy and actually saw a video of themselves on CNN. 

In 1999 most countries did not even offer a registered partnership, which obviously falls very short of full martial rights.  In the United States, Vermont became the first state to offer “civil unions”.  However, most people did not understand the significance that to undo that “civil union”, they would need to reside in Vermont, prior to the dissolution for at least one year.  This became very problematic for many who rushed to Vermont to get married. 

The Netherlands passed its law in 2001.  Belgium followed in 2003 and Massachusetts became the first in the United States to legalize marriage for same sex couples in 2004.  However, it wasn’t until June 26, 2015, that the United States allowed and recognized same sex marriages as a result and Order of the United States Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges.  At that time the United States was one of only 17 countries to change their national laws. 

Today same sex couples can marry in only 29 countries.  This is a stark contrast to the fact that nearly triple that number criminalized consensual same sexual behavior.  I remember as a law student, interning in the early 80’s, with then “Lambda Legal Defense”, on their project to help overturn existing sodomy laws in Texas and many other states. But change is slow!  Sodomy was only officially decriminalized in the United States in 2003.  It still carries the death penalty in some countries.  I find that incomprehensible when so many other heinous crimes have such minimal sentences!  Although many nations are moving towards decriminalizing same sex acts, and a few more countries have come on board in accepting legalizing same sex marriage, there is still a lot of progress that must be made. 

Even for the first married lesbian couple living in what is considered to be a very progressive country as the Netherlands, they have expressed that they feel that there is more aggression on the streets towards same sex couples today than 20 years ago.  The fact that hate and misinformation has been able to grow rather than decline is still very frightening.

Selected excerpt(s) and linked article courtesy of Sarah Prager, The Lily.  Photo courtesy of Unsplash (Royalty Free Photos).