Link to Marriage Partnerships and Parenting in the 21st Century conference

Reports From Turin, Italy:

Press Conference - June 4, 2002

How Holland Did It -
An Interview with Kees Waaldijk

 

 

 

Douglas praying for Cardinal Ratzinger's enlightenment.  Click on picture to enlarge. (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Douglas Elliott praying for Cardinal Ratzinger's enlightenment at one of the many beautiful alters in Turin's Duomo di San Giovanni (home of the Shroud). Click on picture to enlarge.

 

 

 

Link to Robert Wintemute lecture.    Religion vs. Sexual Orientation:  A Clash of Human Rights?

 

 

 

Museo Civico d'Arte Antica - Civic Museum of Ancient Art. Click on picture to enlarge. (Photo be equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Turin's Museum of Ancient Art demonstrates how a building's use and architecture vary over the centuries to remain vital in a living city. (click on picture to enlarge)

 

 

 

Link to  Elliott & Kim - our heroes fighting for our right to marriage in Ontario

 

 

 

Justice Wilhelmina Thomassen at the Turin Conference (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Justice Wilhelmina Thomassen, European Court of Human Rights at the Turin Conference in June, 2002

 

 

 

"When relations are accepted as family life, discrimination, in general, seems less easy to justify."
Wilhelmina Thomassen
June 8, 2002

 

 

 

Palace Fountain - Turin.  Click to enlarge. (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Royal gardens - Fountain (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

"sexual relations between persons of the same-sex among women are considered to be harmless since this would alledgedly not differ from assistance rendered in personal hygiene."
Judge Dr. Hofmeister describing the disparity in treatment of individuals (and genders) based on sexual orienation

 

 

 

Please support our Equal Marriage Fund - A National Fund in Support of Legal Expenses

 

 

 

Photo of Mr. Justice Edwin Cameron, High Court of South Africa, at the Turin conference on marriage and partnerships.  (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Mr. Justice Edwin Cameron (South Africa), the moderator of the panel of distinguished jurists at the Turin conference on marriage and partnerships. Judges shared their perspectives on human rights.

 

 

 

Male sculpted figure in a park in Turin
Male sculpted figure in a park in Turin

 

 

 

Hans Ytterberg (Sweden) at the Turin conference (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)
Hans Ytterberg, Office of the Ombudsman against Discrimination because of Sexual Orientation (Sweden) at the Turin conference.

 

 

 

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Marriage Partnerships and Parenting
in the 21st Century

June 5-8, 2002 | Turin, Italy

The International Lesbian and Gay Law Association and InformaGay (Italy) organized a conference to explore legal issues related to marriage, partnerships and parenting. We were honoured to be the keynote speakers on Friday, June 7. The following are notes and pics that we took during our inspiring time in Turin. Thanks To ILGLAW for the invitation and the participants for an incredible time!

Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell


June 8, 2002

International Lesbian and Gay Law Association
The Gay Agenda

It was the final day of the conference. Everyone had been up late the night before at the gala dinner, so it wasn't unpredictable to see the conference start a bit late. But Douglas Elliott surprised everybody when he launched into a speach in Italian - his maiden voyage in our host country's language. I was lost in the vowels, as I heard his voice luxuriate in unfamiliar sounds.

Douglas continued in Italian long enough to show he could go on, when he switched to English for the rest of us in the room.

"The International Lesbian and Gay Law Association, or ILGLAW, is a relatatively young organization and may not be familiar to some of you," Douglas said. "In 1999, Robert Wintemute organized a wonderful conference at King's college in London, England which many of you attended. We all owe a great deal to Rob for giving us that marvolous opportunity to connect."

During that first conference, "a number of us concluded that the electrifying energy that so inspired us in London should be given a permanent framework." And so ILGLAW was formed. Douglas became its acting president until the fall of 2000 when the group had their first official meeting in Amsterdam. They created a board with one male and one female representative from each of the major regions of the world. Douglas became the first elected president.

"There is a gay agenda," Douglas said. "Equality! And we shall not rest until our people have freedom and dignity in every corner of the globe. From the humid cities of Asia to the deserts of Africa, from the Alps to the Andies, from Afghanistan to Zanzibar, and yes, even into the Vatican itself. We shall not rest until all of our people around the world can join in the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sing out, 'Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.'"


June 8, 2002

Judicial Forum

The final formal gathering of the conference was for a judicial forum. A rare opportunity to get an inside look at the courts, and personal perspectives from its justices.

Justice Wilhelmina Thomassen
European Court of Human Rights
Family Life or Private Life?

Justice Thomassen began by explaining that she was sharing her personal view, and not speaking for the ECHR, which has 41 judges for a possible 800 million possible applicants.

"Family law," Thomassen began, "should play a much bigger role in the issues concerning living together. When it comes to, for example social security, legal positions in respect to children, these kind of issues should, in my opinion, mainly be protected in terms of family life, more than in terms of private life. These issues concern sharing life and should not be discussed in terms of sex or sexual orientation but as rights of individuals to have a life together that should be protected against state intervention, and be supported by positive state measures. The point of view the point of view that living together as man and woman is to be considered as family life, and living together as same-sex couples is private life is not justified and leads to lesser protection of those [same-sex couples] living together."

Thomassen went on to discuss case law in the ECHR and in particular, she looked at the definition of "private life" in the case of Pretty vs. the United Kingdom:

"... the concept of “private life” is a broad term not susceptible to exhaustive definition. It covers the physical and psychological integrity of a person (X. and Y. v. the Netherlands judgment of 26 March 1985, Series A no. 91, p. 11, § 22). It can sometimes embrace aspects of an individual’s physical and social identity (Mikulic v. Croatia, no. 53176/99 [Sect. 1], judgment of 7 February 2002, § 53). Elements such as, for example, gender identification, name and sexual orientation and sexual life fall within the personal sphere protected by Article 8 (see e.g. the B. v. France judgment of 25 March 1992, Series A no. 232-C, § 63; the Burghartz v. Switzerland judgment of 22 February 1994, Series A no. 280-B, § 24; the Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom judgment of 22 October 1991, Series A no. 45, § 41, and the Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v. the United Kingdom judgment of 19 February 1997, Reports 1997-1, § 36). Article 8 also protects a right to personal development, and the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings and the outside world (see, for example, Burghartz v. Switzerland, Commission’s report, op. cit., § 47; Friedl v. Austria, Series A no. 305-B, Commission’s report, § 45).

The state, Thomassen concluded, has a "positive obligation" to encourage the development of relationships, and then of course recognize them. When the private life becomes one with another, family is formed.

"I think same-sex partnerships, and living together, should be more discussed in terms of family life. When relations are accepted as family life, discrimination, in general, seems less easy to justify. It's easier to say, 'There is no family life' than to say, 'There is a family life, but it's an inferior one'.

Family law, in the European Union, is under national control, while individual rights are guaranteed by the EU. In order for marriages to be portable, family law would either have to come under EU control, or be harmonized across the member states in Europe. Whereas in Canada, a federal legislative body (Parliament) is already empowered to control family law in its member provinces. The anticipated removal of same-sex restrictions, and subsequent implementation across 10 provinces is seen, by some in the EU, as a future lesson for similar change in Europe and elsewhere.

 

Dr. Lilian Hofmeister
Justice, Austrian Court

Dr. Hofmeister began by describing the inequities in Austrian law, where she is a Photo of Dr. Lilian Hofmeister at the Turin Conference (Photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2002)jurist. Female-to-female sexuality "is considered to be less dangerous to the public than male homosexual orientation," Dr. Hofmeister explained. "As an example, I may only mention a ruling of the Consititutional Court from 1989 in which the higher age of protection in cases of male homosexuality is considered to be justified in Article 209 of the Criminal Code, and sexual relations between persons of the same-sex among women are considered to be harmless since this would alledgedly not differ from assistance rendered in personal hygiene."

The conference theatre erupted in laughter.

"You can imagine that Freud could only be Austrian, when we develop such laws," Dr. Hofmeister said. "In effect, sexual self-determination and sexual orientation are not respected legal categories in Austrian legal reality."

"The classification of a person by others with respect to gender identities, sexuality, and assumed sexual orientation of that person, are essential criterial for answering the question whether a person, as a legal subject, is recognized by society and respected as being equal, or whether this classification, at first sight, causes derogatory attitudes to be adopted towards that person - discrimination, and thus violation of fundamental human rights. Today, in fact, sexual orientation should belong to people's rights by birth."

But society's shift to extend human rights to homosexuals "would result in a change of paradigm in the value system of a society based idly on heterosexual marriage, hitherto paternalistic, gender hierarchical ... our common basic assumptions would have to be left for good. Instead, people would be respected and recognized for their manifold talents, inclinations, and personal existance and be placed as individuals in the centre of the legal system" rather than outside it, she explained.

To reach this goal, we all must play a role, educating one-on-one or in group situations.

"In reality," Dr. Hofmeister said, "human rights education is nothing but information about a value system. It is a belief assuming that human rights are universal and indivisible, and inter-connected."

Education needs to run through-out society and into the courts, where judges can contribute to the realization of human rights.

"This requires a permanent process of awareness, education, and imparting knowledge, as well as the willingness to deal with legal systems from other contries and to learn from them. The development of consistutional states in Europe has shown that the transformation of value systems in a society is implemented by interacting with and transforming legal systems."

This self-described heterosexual feminist concluded by reminding to look within for our own opportunities to transform.

"We all can never stop trying to achieve further successes in the field of fundamental human rights. Even those discriminated [against] may run the risk of practicing discrimination themselves. This is what is particularly difficult in the realization of human rights."

 

Hans Ytterberg
Associate Judge, Court of Appeals, Stockholm

Hans Ytterberg is on a leave of absence from the Court of Appeals in Sweden in order to serve as the Swedish Ombudsman against Discrimination because of Sexual Orientation (a six year appointment). He described a need for jurists to support one another when they "dare to do the right thing".

"I would submit," Ytterberg said, "that there is a very strong culture of conforming among judiciary. It is a problem."

But that doesn't stop Ytterberg in having faith that more and more judges will deliver human rights to homosexuals.

"Since we can make a difference, we must make a difference," Judge Ytterberg concluded.

 


Coming Soon:

I will be transcribing more of our recordings of the conference proceedings, in order to bring you some highlights, in the near future. Stay tuned!