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The Netherlands marks 20th anniversary in first same-sex marriage

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The Netherlands marks 20th anniversary in first same-sex marriage

Twenty years ago, the Netherlands led the way by holding the world’s first legal same-sex marriage. Now they’re celebrating this milestone in LGBTQ global rights.

Since then, same-sex marriage has been made legal in 28 countries worldwide, including the US. Meanwhile, Taiwan is the only nation in Asia to do so, while South Africa is the only African nation to have marriage equality.

The Netherlands marks same-sex marriage anniversary

For the 20th anniversary, the city of Amsterdam had a huge inflatable pink cake with candles lit up with rainbow flames floating through its canals.

But even with this milestone, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said the struggle for equality was a work in progress and was not yet over: “not worldwide, not nationally, but also not in Amsterdam.”

Aside from the cake, the city had a huge rainbow flag flying from the bell tower of their Western Church, which is next to the Anne Frank House museum.

Aside from holding an online symposium, the city designated a “rainbow walk” route covering 20 sites that were considered important for the LGBTQ rights struggle.

Helene Faasen and Anne Marie Thus were the only lesbian couples among the four gay couples that were married by then-Amsterdam Mayor Mayor Job Cohen in the city hall that day.

Faasen told The Lily over Zoom from the couple’s home in Maastricht that the road to feeling fully accepted is taking “much more time than we had hoped.”

Describing what it felt like to make history twenty years ago, Faasen said: “We felt we could only go forward. However, she added that “it’s not finished yet.”

Following in the footsteps of the Netherlands

Twenty years down the line, the spread of same-sex marriage throughout the world is uneven with almost 70 countries still continuing to criminalize same-sex relations.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that today same-sex marriage would be a reality in 29 countries, I would not have believed you,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of LGBTQ rights group OutRight Action International.

“The progress has been great, no doubt. But we have a long road ahead,” Stern said.

While Poland and a bloc of Eastern European countries have resisted the move, 16 countries in Western Europe have legalized same-sex marriage– and Switzerland is trying to become the 17th.

The countries that have allowed same-sex marriage account for 1.2 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population.

Meanwhile, some countries in Europe like Italy, Greece, and the Czech Republic allow civil unions for same-sex couples, but LGBTQ rights activists consider these as demeaning.

The first lesbian couple to get married

Since 2001, there have been more than 18,000 same-sex marriages with 53 percent of them between two women, as reported by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.

Faasen and Thus first met in 1998 in Amsterdam through a blind date set by their friends. Faasen told The Lily: “It was basically on the criteria that we were both lesbian and short.”

Their first meeting at a lesbian club with friends was stressful. She said: “We met with all eyes on us. It was horrible for us.”

But this later led Faasen to ask Thus out again the next month for a drink. Three years later, they found themselves on becoming the first female same-sex couple in the world to legally marry.

Before April 1, 2001, an editorial in a gay magazine had called for couples who wanted to get married. But the day itself, only four of the five couples– including Faasen and Thus– that had signaled interest had showed up.

Faasen said, “At the moment of the vows, I wasn’t aware of the cameras. It was just me and my future wife.”

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