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NEWS ANALYSIS: Marriage equality issue left over from government formation talks

Same sex marriage promoted through use of top names and new terminology

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By Miska Rantanen
      On Wednesday, an unusual press conference took place in Parliament. A working group comprising many parties announced that it would start collecting signatures on behalf of a bill what would change Finland’s laws on marriage.
      The core of the initiative is that couples of the same gender could also marry. Couples of the same gender would also get the same adoption rights as others. In addition, they could take a common family name.
      The head of the working group, National Coalition Party MP Lasse Männistö, hopes to get more than 100 names behind the initiative, preferably before the end of the year. However, this would be no guarantee that the matter would be brought before Parliament and approved.
What was so unusual about this? For one thing, the fact that the five members of the working group are all in government parties. One would imagine that the government would have the muscle to draw up a proposal and push it through on its own.
      The explanation can be found in the one government party that was not there – the Christian Democrats. The initiative for a change in marriage legislation is something that was left over from the government formation talks in May.
      The Christian Democrats were persuaded to join the government on the condition that the idea of gender-neutral marriage would be left out.
The other parties developed a different strategy, and agreed on a parliamentary legislative initiative in the matter, with the help of the Ministry of Justice, and all others except the Christian Democrats committed themselves to passing this legislation.
      If the initiative starts to collect signatures, then the government tenure of the Christian Democrats will have started with a stumble. The party would be threatened with irrelevance.
      Blocking gay marriage, which was set as a threshold issue for joining the government, is now being circumvented with a legislative initiative in a situation in which the matter cannot be promoted as an initiative of the government itself.
Another thumbprint of the Christian Democrats, a call for reform of abortion legislation, has been openly downplayed by the party’s government partners.
      “Present legislation is quite sufficient and good”, said Minister of Social services Maria Guzenina-Richardson (SDP).
      Passage of a bill on marriage equality is no foregone conclusion, even though the working group has been testing the waters by examining attitude surveys and responses to questions in candidate selection engines.
The most supportive of the initiative among the government parties are the Left Alliance, the Green League, and the Swedish People’s Party. A majority of the Social Democrats also support it, but possibly only half of the MPs of the National Coalition Party.
      As it is unlikely that there will be support from the True Fins, the Centre Party’s urban wing will be in a key role. What will weigh more – a liberal world view, or opposition politics?
The initiative has been given an appropriate facelift. At Wednesday’s press conference there was no mention of the government vs. opposition setup, and the expression gender neutral was not to be found in the paper.
      The first five signatories were heavy-duty political figures: the Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party), as well as the chairs of four government parties - Jutta Urpilainen (SDP), Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance), Ville Niinistö (Greens), and Stefan Wallin (Swedish People’s Party).
      They will also instruct the parliamentary groups of the government parties on what kind of attitude to take.

Previously in HS International Edition:
  BREAKING NEWS: Multiparty initiative to change marriage legislation to allow same-sex marriages (28.9.2011)
  Widespread support within Parliamentary parties for gender-neutral marriage (13.4.2010)

MISKA RANTANEN / Helsingin Sanomat

  29.9.2011 - TODAY
 NEWS ANALYSIS: Marriage equality issue left over from government formation talks

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