Finland: The Foreign Ministry is unequivocally against discrimination of gays in development co-operation

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The Finnish Foreign Ministry has published guidelines that civic organizations involved in publically funded development co-operation must comply with. One of the focal points of the new criteria are the rights of GLBT people. The Ministry underlines that development co-operation funded by the Ministry should avoid any discrimination.

Though published already in early April, theMinistry had not been active in informing the media about the policy blueprint. This pro-GLBT information service broke the news in its Finnish language version on May 6. See link below.

Some private civic organizations with a religious background may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria. The move by the Ministry of Foreign affairs follows recent decisions in the allocation of public money for youth work in Finland. Some religion based organizations lost public funding for their youth operations due to their stands on sexual ethics. There are some of those same organizations among the recipients of public funding for development co-operation abroad. Some organizations do both missionary work and development co-operation, though with separate budgets.

The Head of the Civic Organizations Unit at the Foreign Ministry Mr Aaretti Siitonen says the criteria are not a direct consequence of the earlier discussion related to the allocation of funds for youth work. He says Finland has a long record of promoting the rights of people with minority sexual orientation. The official indicated that although the matter has not attracted attention of late through any specific cases the Ministry wanted to take a clear stand in advance of any situations.

In a related development, there have been debates about the funding of Christian organizations that have been opposing GLBT rights and the ordination of women as priests within parishes of the semi-official Evangelic Lutheran Church of Finland. Some parishes have cancelled funding to organizations seen as discriminatory, some parishes have not. The Finnish Evangelic Lutheran Church is in a good financial position on account its rights of taxation levied by the National Revenue system and a membership base comprising some 77 percent of the nation.

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The current right-left six party coalition government in Finland has kept a fairly low profile on GLBT issues. Although the leading party in the government, the Conservatives, had endorsed the idea of a general marriage legislation in its 2010 Convention (ending discrimination of HLBT persons) the Conservatives agreed to the demands of the small Christian Democratic party that the government would not introduce a Bill on the issue. Later the reform was launched in the form of a Members’ Bill but may not get the sufficient majority in parliament . The election victory of the populist True Finns in the spring 2011 elections increased caution amongst the Conservatives and the Centre in particular.

While prime minister Jyrki Katainen has kept a low profile on HLBT issues, the three ministers dealing with the Foreign Ministry have been vocal on equality and human rights issues. They are Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja (SDP), the Minister for Development Heidi Hautala (Greens) and the Minister for Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb (Cons). The position of Mr Stubb is interesting as he also signed the MP Bill for equality in marriage legislation, while prime minister Katainen did not. Within the Conservatives there are two distinct lines on GLBT issues. The liberal side appeared to be prevailing until the spring 2011 elections, but since then conservative tones have been heard often from the ranks of the Conservatives. Based on what he has said and specifically what he has not said Prime Minister Katainen has showed a less liberal line than his British counterpart and the Finnish Conservative Party has been at least “midatlantic” in its image on GLBT issues, or worse.
The leading opponent of the development of GLBT rights in the coalition government has been the Christian Democratic Minister for the Interior, Mrs Päivi Räsänen. The Christian Democrats are the smallest party in Parliament in Finland and the “prerogative” given to them on the marriage issue was a major shock to liberals in Finland. The stand by the Foreign Ministry shows Mrs Räsänen’s rights to intercept the development of GLBT rights have limits. in Finnish about the For Min guidelines

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