A self appointed task force of five MPs has introduced a Member’s Bill to change the marriage legislation in Finland. The draft was published on September 28, the tenth anniversary of the passing of the current law on same sex partnerships. The reform would make same sex marriages possible.
The five MPs led by conservative first term member Lasse Männistö are now in the process of collecting endorsements for the draft. The bold target is to get at least 100 signatories. That would mean a parliamentary majority. But even with that level attained, the passing of the marriage reform legislation could be seriously undermined at the committee level.
The Member's Bill is a way to bypass the Government Programme. Even though five of the parties in the present coalition government had been, more or less actively, in favour of creating an equality based marriage legislation in Finland the idea was discarded as the small Christian Democratic Party set that as a condition of being in the cabinet. The compromise , reportedly a decision by would-be prime minister Jyrki Katainen, triggered outrage in wide circles and the intention to work through a Member's Bill was announced when the government was formed.
The Christian Democrats are the smallest party in Parliament. Their chairman, the current Minister of the Interior, is a high profile critic of gay rights and lifestyle. Her anti-gay centered political line contributed to two former MPs choosing not to run in the spring 2011 elections.
Top politicians signed, the Prime Minister did not
The first signatory was the current Minister for Foreign Trade and European Affairs Alexander Stubb. He was followed by four cabinet ministers who were also chairmen of their parties. The prime minister, Jyrki Katainen (conservative) was not among the first signatories.
While the chairmen of the social democrats (Jutta Urpilainen, Minister of Finance), the Greens (Ville Niinistö, Minister of Environment), the Left League (Paavo Arhinmäki, Minister of Culture) and the Swedish People’s Party (Stefan Wallin, Minister of Defence) have signed, the Conservatives chose a lower level. In the press conference Oras Tynkkynen, a Green MP, underlined that Mr Stubb has a long record of work for equality, also during his years as a Member of the European Parliament. The high profile of Alexander Stubb does not change the fact that the Conservative Chairman was not available.
A positive outcome for the initiative is by no means certain. The conservatives are deeply split on the issue, despite their pro equality stand taken in the party convention 2010. The social democrats have divisions as well. MP Susanna Huovinen, one of the active five, noted that equality had always been essential in the party, but that changing times had brought up new issues that required to be worked on. Political analysts predict that the majority of the social democratic MPs would be in favour. Of the government parties, the Greens and the Left League are expected to endorse the Bill in corpore. In the Swedish People's Party there could be some desertions, despite the long liberal tradition of that party and two party convention decisions.
The five MP group comprised no opposition members, even though access was open to anyone. In the opposition, the populist true Finns (they themselves use the name the Finns) are unlikely to support the Bill. The internal situation of the party is somewhat precarious though and some exceptions may be possible. The attitude of the Centre Party may be crucial for the outcome. The party base comprises a strong religion lobby, but there are also centrist MPs with a liberal urban voter base.