Marriage Equality Assured in Finland

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Finnish Parliament on Friday, November 28, 2014, passed a civic initiative to introduce same genre marriage in Finland. The parliamentary Legal Committee had previously dismissed the initiative, but the full house voted the Committee down, 105 – 92. The winning protest against the Legal Committee stand had been put forward by MP Jani Toivola, of the Green Party. The winning margin exceeded most expectations. The possibility of a deafet had been tangible as well.

Finnish marriage law is expected to change now in March 2017. Finland will be the last of the Nordic countries to allow marriage equality. The change will not restrict the rights of religious organizations. The reform will also allow adoption of children.

In a statement on Friday, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb underlined the importance of the result. He said the law in Finland would now be brought to the same level with the rest of the West. He also noted the result was an indication of the power of the newly introduced civic initiative system.

Members of Parliament had freedom to vote "on the basis of their conscience" on the issue. Only the populist True Finns had ordered their MPs to vote against the marriage reform, one of the group, MP Arja Juvonen, voted in favour, however.

The leading conservative party was been severely split on the issue, in the vote 28 conservative MPs voted in favour while 16 opposed the reform. Within the conservatives, support of equality had increased in recent weeks though. Most notably, veteran conservative MPs Ilkka Kanerva and Pertti Salolainen voted in favour. Besides the True Finns there was also strong opposition amongst the Centre Party with a majority of centrist MPs voting against. The Legal Committee stand against the reform was mainly caused by the fact that many Legal Committee members were value conservatives. The Committee had voted narrowly to kill the Civic Initiative.

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Thousands demonstrating outside the parliament building on Friday in favour of the reform. There was a small counter demonstration as well. Upon hearing the results, the crowd sang the hymn part of “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius. The Finnish words of the hymn, by poet V.A. Koskenniemi used there urge Finland to arise. Internationally other lyrics have been done, some with a devotional slant.

Registered partnerships have been possible in Finland since 2002. Several parties – including the leading conservatives and social democrats - published party congress resolutions in favour of marriage equality in 2010. However, in the government talks after the election of 2011 the value conservative Christian Democratic Party (smallest in Parliament) insisted that it would not participate in the government, if the government introduces same sex marriage legislation and the prime minister designate Jyrki Katainen accepted their condition. A Members’ Bill within parliament failed to get enough backing 2013. Later during 2013 over 150 000 signatures were collected for a civic initiative.

Conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb appealed in favour of the reform earlier this week. Mr Stubb has been active in promoting HLBTI rights during his political career, as a Member of the European Parliament and as Foreign Minister.

The chairmen of both leading opposition parties, Juha Sipilä of the Centre Party and Timo Soini of the True Finns meanwhile were against the reform. Timo Soini is a Roman Catholic and Juha Sipilä is close to a strict Lutheran grouping.

The Finnish national Evangelic Lutheran Church does not accept marriage equality. Blessings are not offered either, but priests are allowed to pay with the couples. Analysts say the internal situation of the church could worsen in the wake of the parliamentary outcome. Archbishop Kari Mäkinen has kept issuing compassionate and understanding statements, but the ruling Church Synod has shown no signs of compromise. The official stand presented to Parliament was against marriage equality. After the vote, the archbishop noted he rejoiced in the outcome.

In the October 2015 church elections value conservatives appeared to have increased their backing. During the long years of debating marriage equality the church has suffered a decline in membership, now around 75 percent of the nation. Church membership is a public registry issue in Finland and leaving the church requires a formal notification with Magistrates processing.

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