I was never one of those people who thought they wouldn’t get a chance to get married. Then again I was never the girl planning my wedding in a scrapbook either. I guess it’s because I’m relatively young that marriage as a gay person always seemed like a possibility. I had faith that by the time I was ready to get married the world would have changed. However, instead of time healing the wounds of being treated like a second-class citizen, and showing me the world could change, the future disappointed me. First there was Prop 8, then Uganda, then my home nation Finland. To this day we remain the only Nordic country not to have equal marriage. I have tried to figure out why there is no equal marriage in Finland when many parts of the world seem to be ushering in this new equality.
The first thing to understand is that Finland is not particularly religious. Religious participation is at best superficial in the country at large, and even then the majority of people are members of the Lutheran church, which is not particularly conservative. We have female priests, some churches agree to give their blessing to same-sex couples, and recently a same-sex couple was even approved by the church to be sent to do missionary work in Cambodia.
This is not to say there aren’t religious people in the country who oppose equal marriage, and who get their voice heard more efficiently than I hope they would. Yet if you asked an ordinary person, they probably would not have much against equal marriage. This was most clearly demonstrated by a recent citizen’s motion for equal marriage, called “I do 2013”, that gathered the required 50,000 signatures needed to take it to a parliamentary hearing, in a single day. The petition has thus far gathered over 150 000 signatures in its first three months.
To all those who had said the public was against equal marriage, the citizen’s motion proved them wrong. Equal marriage is what the people want, and I’m glad to be a citizen of a nation whose people are not afraid to address an issue that legislators shied away from. This time democracy didn’t suppress the rights of a minority; it brought them to the forefront.
Even though the mandate from the people seems loud and clear so far, and democracy seems to have taken the side of a minority, the reason why Finland does not have equal marriage yet is not because it failed through democratic means. To claim that the people would have said no, the people would have actually needed to be asked first. We do not have equal marriage yet because a few politicians said no, clinging onto their personal values instead of thinking about what the people wanted, the very people that they were supposed to be representing.
The new legislation allowing for citizens motions to exist in the first place only came into being on the 1.3.2012. Before this there was a motion for legislation on equal marriage proposed by a member of the Finnish Parliament. Out of 200 MP’s it gathered 76 signatures and subsequently got voted down by the Law Committee with 9 votes against and 8 in favour. The Chair of the Law Committee was against the proposed legislation, further stating that the Committee had more important issues to deal with and therefore did not have time for equality. However when looking at their agenda, there nonetheless seemed to be time to discuss learning to use an iPad. If there is time to discuss this, then surely there is also time for equal rights for citizens in the eyes of the law.
As “I do 2013” continues its quest for even more names, there is already talk about 150,000 signatures only being 5 % of the population, and how the Law Committee could once again undermine democracy by delaying parliamentary discussion of the motion for up to 6 months, not to mention deciding to discard it completely. However, as hard as some politicians may try, they cannot erase those 150,000 names. Ignoring them would not only be a slap in the face for democracy, but also a violation of human rights for straight and gay people alike. As at the end of the day greater equality benefits all of us.