Before I was writing here, I was writing here about our experiences and adventures in The Netherlands. The five of us moved to Leiden in summer 2005 and returned from The Hague in summer 2009. That’s four years of life in Holland. Two years of keeping a blog about it. But not all the stories have been told. I’m going to tell one today, not only because it’s a great story, but also because it’s timely. And I have, as they say, a bee in my bonnet. I need to talk about this.
My husband, Don, studied at Leiden University for a year working on a post graduate degree in International Criminal Law. At the end of that program, he burned the candle at both ends and the middle as he simultaneously wrote and defended his thesis and began a short contracted position with the ICTY in The Hague. The ICTY is the acronym for a really, really long name which is shortened to a really long name a bit easier to remember. It is the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There they have been and continue to prosecute those most responsible for the war crimes committed in the region (1990’s). After Don’s short contract became a longer contract we moved to the city of The Hague. If you’ve read me long, that’s where I was parked when I began writing about all of it in the unofficial record keeping format we call blogging.
That was a lot of introduction to get us to the beginning of my story.
We lived on a lovely street of row houses in The Hague and, as the only foreign nationals on the street, we were quite the curiousity for our Dutch neighbors. They generally loved to speak to us, practicing their English and pointing out to us the interesting things about Dutch culture we might otherwise have missed. We had a street full of kind (though not altogether warm) neighbors.
One summer morning I stepped into my garden to find that most of the neighbors were on the street chatting and milling about. I joined them. Of course I joined them. Several houses down the way there was a home whose walk, trees, and garden hedges had been decorated with flowers. My neighbor explained to me that it was a wedding day for the couple in that home. The tradition for the wedding day was well underway with the flower shower first. Next, she explained, a horse drawn carriage would pull up to the house to carry the couple to the city hall for registration of their marriage. After the civil ceremony, a couple may also have a church ceremony if they choose. She shared with me that some Dutch do and some Dutch don’t. As I expressed my enthusiasm for witnessing such a charming Dutch custom on this morning, she looked at me intently and carefully said “Now, I don’t want for you to be offended, but this couple today is two women. In Holland, anyone can marry anyone. It’s the Dutch way”. At that moment I sensed that she supposed I would take my (assumed) American conservatism and be upset about such a union. I am sure she couldn’t have been any more surprised and taken aback than to see my actual reaction which was to throw my arms around her neck and hug her tightly, giggling and shouting “Oh, how I love this country!”
And I do. It’s not just that Holland is “tolerant” of same-sex marriages. Holland is way more than tolerant. The country and its people understand that it is what it is. There is no differentiation. There is no special category for registration,rather, two people, any two people can marry. Full stop. And better than that? When the occasion arises for any two people to marry, a gathering of neighbors pour out of their homes into the street to wish a couple well.
Now, there, isn’t that sweet?
For the record:
There are three recognized unions in The Netherlands, all available to both same-sex and heterosexual people:
- Civil marriage
- Registered partnership
- Cohabitation agreement
Holland was on the leading edge of this movement, putting rights in place for same-sex partners and the law back in 1998. Interesting to note on this subject. Nothing has dramatically changed or decayed in the society as a result of any of these rights being granted to same-sex partners. The Dutch understand that no one is harmed, least of all society, to speak nothing of the institution of marriage itself.
Massachusetts understands this as well. And a handful of other places in the USA. Sadly, it’s only a handful. Yesterday’s voting and the results in Maine on this issue is the absolute release of the buzzing of the bee. While I generally steer clear of writing up the controversial bits on my blog, I just can’t pass on this one any longer. It’s just that important. For me and for all of us.