Finland approves gay couples law
by Anna Peltola
The Finnish parliament approved a law on Friday allowing gays to register as couples and obtain some but not all the rights of married couples. The law, which brought Finland into line with other Nordic countries, was expected to become effective in a few months. It allows adults of the same sex to register their relationships officially but does not give same-sex partners the right to adopt each other’s children.
The legislation was opposed vehemently by conservative Christian groups, stirring a passionate debate before it was passed by 99 votes to 84. Fifteen members of parliament were absent and one cast an empty ballot. Finland was the last of the Nordic countries to give gay couples the right to register. Crowds in Helsinki celebrated at DTM, the country’s biggest gay bar, raising champagne glasses and calling the vote a victory for justice and human rights. People in favour said the law was needed to offer gays living together the same stability as married couples, making everyday dealing with authorities easier.
"I think the decision will strengthen family values," said a 22-year-old woman. Rainer Hiltunen, who heads the Sexual Exuality SETA organisation, said he expected hundreds of couples to register when it became possible. He would likely be among them. "We haven’t yet decided on it at home…we haven’t thought we should be among the first ones to do it," Hiltunen said. Opponents of the law were disappointed. I would have wished homosexuality had not been made a norm in our culture," said Christian Democrat member of parliament Kari Karkkainen, one of the most vocal opponents of the law. He said it may force schools and homes to change their approach to young people becoming aware of their sexuality and force homosexuality to be considered an option.
Finland proposes to legalize homosexual unions
Helsinki – Finland plans to legalize homosexual unions as other Nordic countries have already done, officials said on Thursday. The Finnish government accepted a proposal by the justice ministry on Wednesday to give legal status to homosexual relationships, and will begin discussing the issue in parliament next month. But some parties are expected to be split on the matter when the legislation comes to a vote next year.
The law would give gay and lesbian couples many of the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples, but such unions would not have the status of marriage, nor would it allow homosexual couples to adopt children. Social Democrat, Left Alliance and Green party officials said their representatives were likely to vote almost unanimously for the law, while the small Christian League is expected to vote against it.
Officials of the Centre and Conservative parties said they expected their deputies to be split on the issue, but did not comment on the balance between supporters and critics. A similar bill was narrowly rejected by parliament in 1996 when it ran into conservative resistance. "I’m sure that some people will oppose it tooth and nail, but I would be disappointed and surprised if it did not pass this time," said Rainer Hiltunen, head of the Finnish National Organisation for Sexual Equality (SETA).
This country of five million, which is generally perceived as liberal and egalitarian, was the first in Europe to give women the right to vote in 1906, and elected its first female president, Tarja Halonen, this year. Halonen, who has supported gay and lesbian rights for years, was the chairwoman of SETA for a brief term in the 1970s. If the law is passed, Finland will follow in the footsteps of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, all of which have legalized homosexual relationships. Holland has similar legislation, and Germany is following suit.
February 15, 2002 – Planet Out
Finland bishops won’t bless legal unions
by Gay.com U.K.
Despite same-sex partnerships now being legal in Finland, bishops of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church have decided they will not bless gay unions in church.
At a conference this week, Archbishop Jukka Paarma said the church was happy for priests to visit and pray with gay couples in their homes. The church, however, would not extend this to blessing gay partnerships. Paarma also said that the Lutheran Church, to which 85 percent of Finland’s 5 million citizens belong, will not publish an official stand on gay partnerships. The Finnish Lesbian and Gay Association spoke out against the Lutheran Church’s decision and said it showed there was confusion within the church on the issue of gay unions.
March 15, 2002 – Gay.com U.K.
Helsinki Denies Gay Employees Couple Rights
The city of Helsinki in Finland has denied gay city employees who are in registered partnerships paid leave from the city for events such as weddings and funerals. Heterosexual city employees who are married are entitled to paid leave for family dates, such as weddings and funerals Also under city regulations a widowed heterosexual partner is entitled to insurance compensation, but a registered same-sex partner is not, reports the Helsinki Sanomat.
As far as the city of Helsinki is concerned the new law in Finland on the registration of same-sex couples, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, does not change the situation. The trade union representing Helsinki municipal employees, Helsingin yhteisjärjestö, does not agree with the stand taken by the city and is lobbying it to give registered gay couples equal rights to heterosexual married couples.
March 8, 2002 – Reuters
Finns celebrate first gay weddings on women’s day
By Laura Vinha
Helsinki – Dozens of gay and lesbian couples around Finland celebrated their weddings on Friday, the first day same-sex relationships could be officially registered in the least liberal of the Nordic countries.
Two women became the first to make their love official at the Helsinki District Court amid some protests. "It was nice to have a female couple start off the day on International Women’s Day," registrar Peter Oljemark said. Among couples who booked a service in Helsinki were Timo Laakso and Jyrki Salmi, both in their forties, who came to register a relationship that started with an encounter at one of the city’s first gay bars 17 years ago.
"We have waited for this for so long and have in our own way worked towards this, so we thought we’d do it right away," said Salmi. Laakso, an information technology professor, and Salmi, a development project consultant, have been one of few openly gay couples in Finland to appear in the local media. "Many people still think they have never seen or met anyone who is gay, and we wanted to show that homosexuals are just ordinary people," said Salmi. And like other ordinary couples, the two men have booked a honeymoon suite in a posh hotel for their wedding night.
But not everyone was pleased with the new law. Outside the Helsinki District Court some 20 far-right Christian protesters held a ceremony of their own to symbolically bury Finland’s morals. During the display demonstrators kneeled to pray by a white casket filled with Bibles and covered with the blue and white flag of Finland.
They threw salt on the ground and likened homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia over loudspeakers. "We want to be involved (in today’s celebrations) as the salt, so that the entire nation won’t rot from lack of morality and the sin that is now being allowed in our country," the demonstrators said on flyers handed out to passersby. Finland is a Lutheran country and 85 percent of its 5.2 million people belong to the church, but few Finns are active churchgoers and many are largely indifferent to religion.
In gay rights, Finland lags behind regional peers Denmark and Norway, which were the first to officially acknowledge homosexual relationships in 1989 and 1993 respectively. Both countries also allow couples to adopt their partner’s children. Finland’s new law gives registered gay couples most of the rights of married couples, but no parental rights. Rainer Hiltunen, head of the sexual equality organisation SETA, said that would be the next step.
July 13, 2003 – YLE24 Online (Finland)
Gay Activists Welcome Adoption Proposal
The weekend saw the return of the annual Pride Festival in Vaasa. This year, marchers in the rainbow parade and gay rights activists have one reason to celebrate. In the fall, the government will consider allowing homosexual couples to adopt children within the family. The gay pride march in Vaasa is still a relatively small affair – the 150 marchers can hardly match the momentum of gay marches elsewhere in Europe. Likewise, the gay community’s public voice in Finland is also fairly demure. Still, some of its demands are falling on receptive – if cautious – ears in the government. Last year the Parliament voted to allow same-sex couples to register their relationships, but stopped short of allowing gay marriages. In August, the government will likely take another half-step.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will propose a law that will allow registered couples to adopt each other’s biological children. But the Ministry is side-stepping the issue of adoption outside the family. The law is designed not so much for the adults’ sake, but for the children. It will strengthen the position of kids with homosexual parents, by allowing both of them to act as legal guardian. Nearly 500 gay couples have registered their relationship in Finland, and many of these have children. For example, kids with lesbian biological mothers have no legal ties to their mom’s partner. The possibility of adopting a partner’s child is expected to increase the number of gay couples who sign up to register their relationships.
October 7, 2003 – YLE News (Finland),
Lutheran Church To Allow Gay Workers–But Reject Gay Unions
Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has decided – not without argument – to allow gays and lesbians to work within the church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has rejected the possibility that it might bless or sanction homosexual relationships.
However, the church will continue to allow those registered in homosexual relationships to perform official duties for the church. An advisory committee had been appointed to draft an official position on the matter. The issue split the opinions of the committee. While the majority approved of homosexual church workers, others on the board did not. Several of the members submitted a dissenting opinion, in which they expressed their belief that gays should be barred from working in the church. In their opinion, they write that the "gay lifestyle should not be allowed to intrude into the circle of church workers." As for refusing to sanction gay relationships, the chairman of the committee,
Bishop Ilkka Kantola says this is because same-sex relationships don’t fit into the church’s ideals. But he doesn’t consider the difference of opinions on homosexuality to be a threat to the unity of the Church. He said that on moral questions, it was both expected and healthy to have a range of opinions. The matter will now be handled by a church synod which meets in the beginning of November.
June 30, 2008 – PinkNews
Gay blood ban is lawful, says Finnish official
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Finnish Red Cross policy of banning men who have sex with men from donating blood should not be considered unlawful. The country’s parliamentary ombudsman announced today that she had based her decision on expert opinions. "These statements contain appropriately reasoned epidemiological information to the effect that sex between men clearly increases the risk of contracting serious blood-transmitted diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, and thereby increases the safety risk in blood transfusion," Riitta-Leena Paunio said, according to Finnish News Agency STT. The ombudsman emphasises that the ban is not due to sexual orientation, which enjoys constitutional protection against discrimination, but rather to sexual behaviour."
A similar ban in the UK has come under attack from gay rights activists. Students, LGBT rights activists and politicians have all decried the bar on men who have had sex with men from donating. Currently, a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even with a condom, is barred from donating blood for life because they are deemed to be more at risk of passing on sexually transmitted diseases. Campaign group BloodBan.co.uk has branded current guidelines "outdated and discriminatory" and called for an overhaul of the policy. However, Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity, providing services across England, Wales and Scotland, backs the National Blood Service.
"We support the current attitude of the NBS but we do think they could go a lot further to explain themselves," Lisa Power, THT’s head of policy, told PinkNews.co.uk last month. I don’t blame people who don’t understand the ban and who think it is all about prejudice. 99 times out of 100 when someone is told they can’t do something because they are gay, it’s prejudice. What the blood service does is something they have been afraid to admit in the past – they play the odds. They look at how much blood they need and they look at how many risks they have to take to get the blood, and they do not take any more risks than that. And although the risk is relatively low, there is a risk there. When we talk to people about this, they are surprised to find out that nobody from England can give blood in America. The odds that they play in America mean they do not need to take English blood and there is a tiny, and not dissimilar risk, of BSE from English blood. It wouldn’t matter if you were a vegetarian, they will not take the risk. For a vegetarian to be refused the chance to give blood in America is pretty much the same as a gay man would feel." We support the blood service so long as they regularly review the evidence."
The latest Health Protection Agency findings released by National AIDS Trust show diagnoses of heterosexuals infected in the UK have increased by 50 per cent since 2003. Figures for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for 2007 also reveal that of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 2007, 53% were acquired through heterosexual contact while only 21% were through male-to-male sexual contact.
Yusef Azad, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the NAT said: "It is absolutely paramount that the blood supply is protected and it remains the case that gay men are the largest group affected by HIV in the UK. However, we do believe that the current rules should now be reviewed in the light of changes in practices in other countries, and alternatives such as a time limited ban be actively considered."
November 13, 2008 – Daily Queer News
Imatra Vicar Plans Gender Reassignment Surgery
A local Imatra vicar’s announcement that he plans to undergo gender reassignment surgery is forcing the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church to take a stance on sex change.The minister, Olli Aalto, who is taking a temporary leave of absence, intends to begin hormone treatments. After this, he will undergo surgery and physically become a woman.Voitto Huotari, the bishop of the local Mikkeli diocese, says Aalto can no longer continue in his job. Aalto considers this view to be blatantly discriminatory.
Aalto says he has been encouraged to leave the Church. However, firing him would break equality law. Aalto says he’s considering taking the Church to court if he is expelled from his job.
July 9, 2010 – YLE.fi
Homophobic Attacks Challenge Helsinki’s Gay Friendly Image
A campaign launched by the City of Helsinki last year to brand itself a gay-friendly town has been overshadowed somewhat by homophobic attacks. The Helsinki City Convention and Tourist Bureau has set up a network of businesses committed to making gay, lesbian, and transgender visitors welcome. However, a pepper spray and smoke bomb attack against the Helsinki Pride march last Saturday, and vandalism against the headquarters of HESETA, the Helsinki branch of the national gay rights organization SETA, suggest that there is room for improvement.
Explaining the background of the current Gay Friendly Helsinki campaign, Hanna Muoniovaara, the Marketing Manager, of the campaign, says that Helsinki has already promoted itself among gay communities of different countries, hoping to attract a new class of tourists with ample spending power. Having noticed that Helsinki’s biggest competitors in the tourist business, Stockholm and Copenhagen, have been more active in promoting themselves among the gay, lesbian, and transgender tourists, the Finnish capital decided to follow suit.
Gay-Friendly Business Network Established
To give credence to the campaign, the city’s tourist officials worked to set up a network of businesses committed to fair treatment of gays, both in their hiring policies, as well as customer service. HESETA chairwoman Kerttu Tarjamo feels that Helsinki is worthy of the title, in spite of occasional outbreaks of homophobia. "I think Helsinki is relatively friendly. There are many gay people in Helsinki who have moved from other places, because you can live relatively freely, and there is less prejudice. I think we’re somewhere in the middle. We’re going in a better direction, but definitely it is not the worst."
Gay Culture More Open than Before
When Gay Gambrini, Helsinki’s first gay club opened up in the mid-1980s, the main entrance was discreetly located in the back of the building, allowing customers and staff to come and go without drawing too much attention to themselves. Today, there are quite a few gay bars and clubs in Helsinki, with establishments feeling no need to conceal their character. "Especially in the past few years, we have a very lively gay community in Helsinki – we have places to gather. Also I think that an active campaign about being gay friendly will positively affect attitudes of people who live here”, Kertto Tarjamo says.
The pepper spray and smoke bomb attack against the Helsinki Pride event a week ago Saturday, and the attack against HESETA headquarters Thursday night were seen as aberrations, but they also indicate that homophobia has not gone away. "Of course we were shocked about it, because nothing like that has happened in the past ten years or so. In Finland most people respect the right to express opinions, so from that point of view it is a setback, but also it shows that we take more space. The more we are seen, the more there will be statements against us,” says Kerttu Tarjamo on the attack against the Helsinki Pride event.
The gas attack sparked sharp condemnation from President Tarja Halonen, and Kerttu Tarjamo is pleased that that Helsinki police are treating the attack as a serious hate crime. "This particular event and the way that the police have handled it will have a positive effect on how police will react to hate crimes in the future."
Homophobia a Bigger Problem in Some Countries
While many of the gay visitors to Finland come from countries that are relatively tolerant, others are under more pressure at home to stay in the closet. "We have countries nearby where Pride events cannot be organised, or they are vandalised much more than our event was, so I hope that they will find their way to Helsinki and see that this is a safe haven for them as well."
For Hanna Muoniovaara, the ultimate aim is to make a separate designation of "gay friendly" unnecessary: "The main aim is that nobody has to have these labels such as gay friendly, but as it still is such a sensitive subject, that we need to talk about it. I hope that all companies will be gay friendly in Helsinki, and that it would spread out to the whole country."
November 12, 2010 – AFP
Finnish state church sanctions prayer for gay marriages
Helsinki(AFP) — After years of debate, Finland’s state church took a step towards accepting gay relationships with an announcement Friday it would create a "prayer moment" for registered partnerships. "The proposal offers a positive opportunity to minister to church members who are sexual minorities," the General Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church‘s highest administrative body, said in a statement. The General Synod must now draw up a formula for a prayer that walks a fine doctrinal line, observers said.
Lutheran ministers will have the choice of performing the prayer with gay couples in a church, but it will not actually constitute a church’s blessing of the union itself, synod spokesman Marko Kailasmaa told AFP. The decision was approved, not without conflict, by the synod’s representatives of ministers and bishops in a vote of 78 for and 30 against. The vote can be seen as a concession of sorts to a groundswell of popular support within the church community for Christian gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
"A prayer moment is part of pastoral care … It’s not an official sacrament, but you can’t say that a prayer is less important," Kailasmaa said.
The Church has been under pressure since a televised debate on gay marriage hosted by Finland’s public broadcaster YLE featured church officials arguing that gay relationships were contrary to Biblical teachings and the values of the Church. Although these opinions were in line with long-held Church doctrine, the publicity of the debate sparked a mass exodus, with more than 40,000 registered Lutherans quitting the church in the month following the debate.
"This proposal is not a reaction to the hullabaloo in the media. The Church has debated the issue since 2002, when registered partnerships became possible," Kailasmaa said.
28 March 2011 – PinkNews
Thousands leave Finnish Lutheran church over anti-gay campaign
by Jessica Geen
Thousands of people have reportedly left the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland after a campaign against homosexuality. The week-long campaign, which was drawn up by several Christian groups and ended this weekend, was met with anger. Called “älä alistu” (“don’t acquiesce”), it claimed that gay people can become straight and urged youths not to give in to thoughts of homosexuality.
In one promotional video, a young woman called Anni describes how she stopped being bisexual. She also compares her situation to that of a reformed murderer. Although the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland did not lead the campaign, it gives money to the organisations which did. Members of the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland, which is Finland’s national church, pay money to support the church and those it subsidises.
By Thursday, 3,000 people had signed an online petition declaring that they were leaving the church, YLE reports. Kari Mäkinen, Archbishop of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, criticised the campaign and said it should be stopped. He emphasised that gay people were not sick and had been created by God the way they were. Mainstream medical opinion holds that sexual orientation cannot be changed. Gay rights campaigners say so-called ‘ex-gay’ therapy is useless at best and at worst, can cause serious mental harm.