Education International
Education International

Same-sex marriage victories in France, New Zealand and Uruguay

published 25 April 2013 updated 26 April 2013

EI welcomes the record of victories on marriage equality in three regions and calls on unions to act towards equality. France became the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage on 24 April, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so on the eve of 16 April, and Uruguay became the second country in Latin America to allow equal marriage for same-sex couples – after Argentina legalised it in 2010.

The struggle continues It is 20 years since the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee first established that criminalising same-sex relations violated people's rights to intimacy. Since then, only 30 Member States have taken steps to remove homosexuality related offenses from their legal systems.

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 17/19— the first UN resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity.

This historic resolution was followed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report, “Born Free and Equal. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in international human rights law”.

This report addressed the responsibility of States to end violence and discriminatory laws and practices based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

South Africa, Norway, Brazil and other supporters of the resolution have decided to reach out cross-regionally, through dialogue and engagement in a series of regional seminars, as a prelude to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council  (27 May to 14 June 2013).

France The French National Assembly passed the second and final reading of the no. 344 bill opening marriage to same-sex couples ( Projet de loi ouvrant le mariage aux couples de personnes de même sexe, n° 344).

The landmark bill grants same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt, after fierce debate and mass protests from conservatives and religious groups. The French Senate approved the bill – with 10 amendments - on Friday April 20. The National Assembly first passed the so-called “Marriage for All” law last February.

French civil unions, allowed since 1999, are just as popular among heterosexuals as among gay and lesbian couples. But that law has no provisions for adoption.

“It takes time to change attitudes, but this law will be a useful support to combat prejudice and deconstruct stereotypes,” stated Laurent Escure, Secretary General UNSA Education. “In this regard, the work is considerable. Indeed, in a usual, calculated, or hateful way, homophobia invaded our public space, until it got dirtied. ”

Activists and activists in UNSA Education, as educators and as actors of social life, remain faithful to this commitment”, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told lawmakers that the first weddings could take place as soon as June.

Uruguay: second country in Latin America The Uruguayan Congress has voted to legalise same-sex marriage. In its lower house, 71 of the 92 legislators present for the vote – out of a total of 99 – voted in favour of the proposal. Uruguay is now the second country in Latin America and the third in all the Americas to legalise same-sex marriage.

The law modifies the civil code and states that “civil marriage is the permanent union, pursuant of the law, of two people of different or the same sex”. The bill was approved in December 2012 by the Chamber of Deputies in a vote of 81-six, before being ratified by the Senate with some minor amendments on 2 April 2013 in a 23-eight vote. Civil unions have been allowed since 2008.

New Zealand The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was passed in New Zealand by 77 votes in favour with 44 against the proposal.It amends the Marriage Act 1955 (the principal Act) so that two people - regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity - can marry in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality in 1986. Since 2005, it has allowed same-sex civil unions, which enjoy the same rights and obligations as a marriage involving opposite-sex couples.

To celebrate the vote last week, people gathered outside Parliament and joined in singing a traditional Maori love ballad.

Unions stand shoulder-to-shoulder with LGBT members

Ireland is to hold a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage after a special convention set up to reform the Irish constitution recommended that same-sex couples in the Republic be recognised in law. In Dublin on 14 April, t79 per cent of the convention’s members voted in favour of full equality for same-sex marriage.

Under the Irish constitution, any major constitutional change has to be ratified by the electorate.

In the United States in March, EI’s member organisations, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Teachers’ Federation (AFT), joined in filing amicus briefs challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (bans same-sex marriage in that state) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that defines marriage for the purposes of federal law as between a man and a woman.

The AFT and NEA filed amicus briefs earlier to argue that both Proposition 8 and DOMA should be struck down by the US Supreme Court. Nine states and the District of Columbia in the US recognise same-sex marriage, but the federal government does not.

“As president of the AFT, and as someone who felt the sting of anti-gay prejudice growing up gay, I am proud to be a part of a labour movement committed to challenging injustice and discrimination, knocking down barriers for working people, and standing up for the equal treatment of all Americans under our laws,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT President. “Unions have fought for workplace protections and benefits for LGBT, and for same-sex partners. These amicus briefs show labour taking the next historic steps in standing up for the rights of gay and lesbian Americans.”

"Embedding discrimination of gay and lesbian Americans into our laws and workplaces is not only morally reprehensible, it also makes zero economic sense. We must no longer be a nation that allows loving, committed same-sex couples to be denied the economic and workplace rights and protections that heterosexual couples simply take for granted.

The right to join your spouse's healthcare plan, to enjoy the tax benefits of marriage, to receive the Social Security and pension benefits following the loss of a spouse, to visit your spouse in the hospital or make end-of-life decisions—these are all denied to same-sex couples.

DOMA and Proposition 8 help legitimise workplace discrimination against gay Americans and create a two-tiered workforce based on sexual orientation. These laws also deny immigration opportunities for same-sex couples.

“Prop 8 and DOMA aren’t just unconstitutional; they contradict American values of fairness, inclusion and freedom for all” said Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President.

“We cannot fully teach fundamental values like the importance of diversity and understanding cultures in our classrooms when not all Americans have the same basic civil rights”, he added

The latest news In a major victory, on Thursday April 24, the Rhode Island Senate passed a marriage equality bill and become the 10th US State to extend marriage rights to same sex couples.  The bill would go into effect on August 1, 2013.

On the same date the Colombian Senate rejected a marriage equality bill by 51 against and 17 in favour but the country's Constitutional Court may legalize same-sex couples by June.  In 2011, the same Court ruled that Congress must pass legislation within two years in order to extend the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage to same-sex couples.

As lawmakers now failed to pass legislation, gays and lesbians will have to register their unions in court. The Court recognizes that same-sex couples in Colombia are a family and since 2007 also recognizes the right to social security, pension and inheritance. But they can not marry or adopt.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Uruguay, New Zealand and France.


EI policy paper on education: Building the Future on Quality Education

“Born Free and Equal. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in international human rights law”, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Report, 2012

Co-chairs’ Summary of Conclusions - International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Oslo, 15-16 April 2013