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Belgium says "I do": the country becomes only the second in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriage. (Marriage).

Once again, one of the world's smallest countries is taking the biggest steps in expanding the rights of gay people. This time it's Belgium--passing a law January 30 to recognize same-sex marriage beginning this summer. The country is only the second in the world--after its trailblazing neighbor, the Netherlands--to extend such rights to gay men and lesbians.

"We're very happy," said Anke Hintjens, a spokeswoman for the country's largest gay rights group, Holebifederatie. "We think it's a very important moment for us in our history." Hintjens said her group is hoping to stage a mass wedding in Brussels when the law takes effect, which will likely be July 1: "We have a lot of couples in our movement who want to get married."

The Netherlands became the first country to offer marriage rights to same-sex couples in April 2001. Several other European countries, including France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, grant legal recognition to same-sex couples but limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

In Belgium it was the former minister of public health, Magda Aelvoet, who first proposed that the government legally recognize gay relationships. After studying the various judicial ways of changing the law, it became clear that opening up marriage law was a better option than creating a separate legal class for same-sex couples, said Annemie Mercelis, legal adviser for current public health minister Jef Tavernier. "Otherwise, it would have meant a whole new type of legislation," she explained, adding that with the revised law, "it was a really simple operation."

Some gay rights supporters are disappointed that the law falls short in a couple of areas. It does not provide joint rights for both parents of a child--meaning that only a biological parent has custody rights--and does not allow a gay couple to adopt. The law also ignores gay Belgians who want to marry their foreign national partners, as Belgian international private law requires that marriage be allowed by the foreign partner's country of origin. Since the Netherlands is the only other country allowing same-sex marriage, gay Belgians can legally marry only each other or their Dutch neighbors.

Still, no one is denying that this move is a huge step forward for gay and lesbian Belgians. "These are good times for the [gay] movement in our little country," Mercelis said.
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Author:Savage, Todd
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Mar 18, 2003
Words:381
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
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