The Legal Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament has voted 10-6 against a citizens' initiative for the introduction of equal marriage rights and will consequently advise the Parliament to reject the initiative in its plenary session this autumn.
The parliamentary debate is nevertheless expected to be even.
The six members of the committee who on Wednesday morning voted for the initiative were Aino-Kaisa Pekonen (Left Alliance), Kristiina Salonen (SDP), Jaana Pelkonen (NCP), Stefan Wallin (SFP), Oras Tynkkynen (Greens) and Johanna Ojala-Niemelä (SDP).
The backers of the initiative admitted to being disappointed with the outcome of the vote. “It's a question of human rights, equality and equality before the law,” said Salonen. “We're the only Nordic country without equal marriage laws,” lamented Pekonen.
One of the members to vote against the initiative, Mika Niikko of the Finns Party, described the outcome as “a blessing”.
“It's a matter between a man and woman, marriage that is,” said Kari Tolvanen (NCP), another member to vote against the initiative. Tolvanen also justified his decision by claiming that the initiative does not fulfil the criteria for high-quality lawmaking.
Even if the Parliament in its plenary session decides to back the initiative, the Government is unlikely to draw up a bill for equal marriage rights before the elections due to its promise to the Christian Democrats not to do so.
The Legal Affairs Committee also rejected a proposal to extend marriage rights to gay couples in 2013, when the vote tipped 9-8 against the proposal.
As a result, Finland remains the only Nordic country yet to permit same-sex marriage.
Finland is at risk of falling behind Europe in the development of human rights, unless the Parliament passes a bill for equal marriage laws next autumn, cautions Martin Scheinin, an expert in human rights and a professor of public international law at the European University Institute in Italy.
The extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples, Scheinin adds, has quickly become a human rights issue.
“Although same-sex couples are allowed to register their partnership in Finland, that is not equivalent to marriage in all respects. Different treatment with respect to surname, adoption rights and issues related to social security can result in discriminatory situations,” estimates Scheinin.
“An equal marriage act would be a technically simple and clear way to solve the problems.”
The Legal Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament on Wednesday voted 10-6 against a citizens' initiative for the introduction of equal marriage rights, sparking criticism from human rights watchdogs and interest groups for sexual and gender minorities.
“We have an initiative that has received 166,000 statements of support and polls showing that the people support it. Now, ten people have decided if not to kill, then to turn down the initiative,” says Merja Kähkönen, an executive director at Seta Helsinki.
Tiina Oikarinen, an expert at the Finnish section of Amnesty International, urges people to challenge the predominant norms. “That could promote the understanding of non-discrimination as a human right.”
Although the law permitting same-sex couples to register their partnership was enacted already in 2002, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has yet to adopt a clear position on the issue. The General Synod has settled on a compromise by allowing pastors to pray with or for same-sex couples.
“The Lutheran understanding of marriage is that it's a social institution although the church has introduced a spiritual dimension to it. If the law is passed later, the church has several alternatives on how to approach the question of who to marry,” says Irja Askola, the Bishop of Helsinki.
Askola is an advocate of equal marriage rights.
“I believe the purpose of the Parliament is to enact laws that treat people equally,” she explains.
At the Parliament, reactions to the vote were mixed. “I'm very pleased with the decision of the Legal Affairs Committee. The deep ranks of the people are of this opinion,” insisted Timo Soini, the chairperson of the Finns Party.
Kaj Turunen (PS) said that he voted against the initiative due to its implications for adoption rights. “It's no longer a question of the rights of adults but of the rights of children,” he argued.
Arto Pirttilahti (Centre) said that extending adoption rights to gay couples would also prevent straight couples from adopting from abroad because some countries have threatened to refuse to give children for adoption to Finland if the country passes the initiative.
The policy-makers who voted in favour of the initiative were contrastively disappointment. “This is a question of human rights, parity and equality. I see no reason why it shouldn't be passed […]. We're already behind other Nordic countries in this respect. I had hoped it would be pushed forward this term,” lamented Aino-Kaisa Pekonen (Left Alliance).