This is an English version of my article to the website Brasileiras Pelo Mundo. To read it in Portuguese click here.
March 1, 2017 entered the history of Finnish society and will certainly be remembered forever by the country’s LGBT community and its sympathizers as a symbol of victory. It will be a historic day not only to celebrate what has been achieved so far but also to give more strength to the cause, because there is always more to claim and conquer. It´s the day when homosexual couples acquired the legal right to marry and adopt children in Finland.
Despite being the last Nordic country to formalize same-sex marriage – Norway was the first in 2009, followed by Sweden in the same year, then came Iceland in 2010 and Denmark in 2012 – Finland has its merit in that especially if we consider how fast the evolution and transition of this society has been happening.
Taking a very brief retrospective, think that this country, which owns one of the best public education systems in the world, only really started to invest in it in the 1970s. That until that decade the land of Nokia was still behind the Europeans in levels of industrialization, and especially that, going back to the topic of this text, until 1971 homosexuality in Finland was consider a crime with a 2 year prison sentence. It is very cool to be able to see that in less than 50 years, a country which has existed as a nation for less than 100 years (the centenary of the Finnish Independence will be celebrated on December 6, 2017) has achieved so many things at the core of citizens’ rights.
This shows how relative time is and yes, quality education geared towards the formation of critical thinking, creates positive attitude and awareness.
Of course there is prejudice in Finland just as everywhere in the world, we still have a lot to improve, but I realize that a significant part of the population knows this and I see constant efforts to search for changes and to build a more just society . In recent years I have noticed that the population is becoming more active and reactive, both in the field of conservatism, and in what reacts against it (mobilizing a much larger number of people, thanks!).
This victory in the rights of the LGBTs is a proof of this, since it gained strength after the popular initiative of a petition with about 166 thousand signatures (100 thousand only on the first day).
Surveys organized in 2014 and 2015 showed that about 66% of the Finns are in favor of legalizing marriage between homosexual couples and more than 50% agree that such couples should have the right to adopt children.
The law for same-sex marriage with the right to adopt children was approved by the Finnish Parliament on November 28 2014 with 105 votes in favor and 92 against. However, only in 2017 it came into force.
The position of the Church
The Finnish State is secular but the Lutheran Church represents most of the Finnish people’s creed choices and exerts some influence on society. With regard to same-sex marriage, the Archbishop of the Church declared that the institution will not accept such marriage ceremonies and will not even allow blessings to be given to these couples in the churches.
Some pastors, however, have declared themselves to be in favor of marriages in the church and it has generated much controversy among members of the institution.
What the Church will allow pastors do is to give blessings to couples who wish for it in other locations, outside the churches. You can read more about it here.
I cannot tell exactly how long ago, but I remember talking to a friend who has two children in Finnish school about 3 years ago and she told me, back then, that since day-care children learn that there are many different types of family and that these can be formed by a father and a mother, by two fathers or by two mothers. Schools attempt to give children a natural look without taboos, without the need of estrangement from something which is part of society.
However, as I said at the beginning of the text, there is prejudice, there is still much more to be achieved but I see a society striving for positive changes.
To learn more about LGBT rights in Finland and get information on the subject, visit the website of SETA, the Finnish human rights organization that advocates for LGBT rights.
Here are some key milestones in the evolution of LGBT rights in Finland. To read this complete list, click here.
1889 Homosexuality is considered a crime provided for in the Criminal Code. Punishment: up to two years in jail.
1971 Homosexuality is finely decriminalized. It remains a crime, however, its “promotion.”
1981 Homosexuality is removed from the national classification of diseases.
1995 Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the country.
1999 The Penal Code is revised and the age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse becomes 16 years old. As of this year the law prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality is finally overturned.
2001 It is allowed for homosexual couples to register their union. The rights acquired by the registered union are similar to those of a marriage with two exceptions: not being able to acquire the same surname and neither to adopt children.
2002 The law recognizing gender in transsexuals comes into force.
2004 The “Discrimination Act” is approved, prohibiting discrimination and offenses related to age, ethnic or national origin, citizenship, language, religion, creed, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or any other motive related to the person.
2005 The “New Discrimination Act” takes effect. The act also applies against discrimination suffered by persons who have been or will be subjected to gender-change surgery.
2006 The law of the right to fertilization treatment in the public health system is approved by parliament. It includes single and homosexual women. Gestation by substitution (“surrogacy”) becomes illegal for all.
2009 Domestic adoption for same-sex couples becomes possible.
2011 Transvestism as a diagnosis is removed from the Finnish version of ICD-10. Sexual orientation is added to the list of prejudices to be addressed in the Penal Code.
2014 The Equality in Marriage Act is the first citizens’ initiative approved by the Finnish Parliament. The reform makes it necessary to make changes in the legislation, so it took a while for it to come into force.
2015 The new Equality Law and the Non-Discrimination Law enter into force. The Equality Act also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. The Ombudsman for minorities has become the Ombudsman for non-discrimination, and works against all forms of discrimination.
2017 On March 1, the law allowing marriage between same-sex couples comes into force along with the right to adopt children under the same conditions as heterosexual couples.