Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1999


by Brett Humphreys

It is just ten years since the first modern legal recognition of same-sex partnerships was established by the Danish Registered Partnership Act, which came into force on 1st October 1989 (see Denmark Leads the Way, G&LH Winter 1989-90). The first of 11 couples (all male) whose partnerships were registered in Copenhagen that day were Axel and Eigil Axgil, whose relationship was already in its fortieth year, both of them atheists and longstanding campaigners for gay rights. In June 1948 Axel founded Forbundet af 48 (now renamed LBL), one of the world’s oldest surviving gay organisations.

The story of the pioneering activities of the Axgils and others that eventually led to this historic event is told on the First Partnership Page. Although the main language of this site is English, the site is truly multilingual, with versions of the home page also in Danish, French, German and Swedish, and many of the background documents presented in their original languages. The text is supplemented by good-quality photographs throughout.

In addition to the Danish story, there are links to further information relating to most of the other countries that have subsequently implemented registered partnership laws (Norway 1993, Sweden 1995, Greenland 1996, Iceland 1996, the Netherlands 1998, and the Canadian province of Quebec 1999), those that have enacted related but more restricted rights (Hungary 1996 and the US state of Hawaii 1997), and those where proposals have reached a parliamentary level (Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Portugal, Spain and the United States). Can it be coincidence that at least two of the pioneering countries – Norway and the Netherlands – are ones where the humanist outlook is relatively influential?

The First Partnership site carries a number of other interesting features not directly related to partnership. One of them, Gay Holocaust, details the hunt for Carl Vaernet, the Danish doctor who carried out atrocities on gay men at the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Neuengamme. Another, Origin of Homo, is an anonymous essay proposing an amusing evolutionary theory in which it seems that gay men are responsible for the invention of monotheism and just about every other aspect of human cultural development!

Whatever evolutionary significance same-sex partnerships may have among humans, it appears that ethologists are not always proficient at observing them in other species, or at interpreting them in a value-free way when they do observe them. Bruce Bagemihl’s major new book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St Martin’s Press, 1999) helps set the record straight – so to speak. For extracts, including examples of the derogatory terms that have been used by supposedly objective scientists to describe homosexual behaviour, see the feature on the book at Stonewall Inn Editions, the gay and lesbian imprint of St Martin’s Press. This also gives the author’s own account of his purpose in writing the book.

The theme of sexual diversity in nature is followed up in a more recent New Scientist article entitled Queer Creatures, which is partly based on Bagemihl’s work.

The Netherlands may well become the first country to move beyond registered partnership law to achieve full marriage rights for same-sex partners, possibly by 2001. The website of the Dutch lesbian and gay organisation NVIH-COC records the progress towards this in a series of news reports available in English, written by law lecturer Kees Waaldijk, a longstanding member of GALHA whose name will be familiar to regular readers of G&LH.

By contrast, the United Kingdom, still struggling with its legislative constipation over the introduction of an equal age of consent, seems as far away as ever from developing any sensible form of partnership law, notwithstanding recent outrage over the stark discrimination highlighted by the differential criminal injuries compensation available to partners of those murdered at the Admiral Duncan pub in April. British lesbian and gay couples hoping for some public affirmation of their relationship will have to remain content with an unofficial ceremony for the time being. Those seeking one free from religion will find just what they want at the site of the Pink Triangle Trust.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-09-26 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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