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Parliament drama as marriage law changes underway

Parliament was a whirl of varying sentiments on Thursday as it began handling the necessary law changes to make same-sex marriage legal in 2017. Finns Party MP Mika Niikko chided his fellow politicians with religious rhetoric, Greens Party MP Ozan Yanar compared him to an Islamist, Minister Jari Lindström said he felt "awkward" and others still rejoiced at Finland "finally becoming a civilised country".

Mika Niikko
Finns Party MP Mika Niikko delivering his speech at the Parliamentary meeting. Image: Yle

On Thursday Finland's Parliament began working on associated law changes necessary to facilitate the same-sex marriage act becoming legal in 2017. Tensions ran high during the sit-down starting with Minister of Justice Jari Lindström bringing the task to the table reluctantly.

"I respect Parliament's decision even though it does not match my own views. But it is Parliament's decision and I respect it. As a minister it is my duty to table this law," said Lindström, who voted against the same-sex marriage bill last autumn when the Finns Party was an opposition party.

A week previously when the issue was discussed in government Lindström was absent and Minister of Transport Anne Berner of the Centre Party tabled the law in his stead.

Negative: Religious route

Negative reactions to the marriage law and its associated changes came primarily from the Finns and Christian Democrat Parties.

Lindström's party colleague, MP Mika Niikko spoke with feeling at the meeting and verbally chided all those present who were in favour of the same-sex marriage law, whether Finns Party or otherwise.

"I know you know that God has raised you up to this station for these trying times. Where is your fear of God?" Niikko said to the room, to which Greens MP Ozan Yanar responded by saying Niikko sounded like an Islamist extremist.

Lutheran archbishop Kari Mäkinen also got his share of Finns Party vitriol for openly supporting LGBT rights. Niikko labelled the archbishop a "paid shepherd", religious lingo meaning that in his view Mäkinen does not care about his flock.

Fellow Finns Party member Pentti Oinonen joined Niikko: "Meanwhile the poor, the sick and the put-upon were forgotten. Will the archbishop take the blame for these souls?" he intoned.

Christian Democrat Peter Östman voiced his concern that archbishop Mäkinen is running the Lutheran church into an administrative and doctrinal crisis, as the Evangelical Lutheran handbook only recognises marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Positive: Human rights and sophistication

The left block, Greens and National Coalition Party rejoiced at the prospect of associated law amendations.

"I think it's time to stop stalling and take this forward," said Mikko Kärnä of the Centre Party.

His party colleague Sari Multala echoed his sentiment and underlined her stance that the issue of equal rights marriage is "not a 'so-called' human rights issue, but an actual human rights issue". SDP's Timo Harakka called the Parliamentary law change meeting "historic", while Greens Party MP Jyrki Kasvi said he was glad that Finland is "finally becoming a civilised country".

Ten law changes necessary

The law enabling same-sex couples to marry will be enacted in Finland in March, 2017, as will the ten associated law changes that will make it possible.

One of the ten amendations is that same-sex couples currently in a registered relationship can change their status to married with a single joint notification. That means that the switch is not automatic but the registered relationship status will not need to be cancelled first, either. Registered relationship will cease to be an option and same-sex couples will be allowed to adopt children.

Current legislation also includes a section on the so-called singleness requirement, which denies transgender people from getting married or entering a registered relationship.

One of the amendments involves all Finnish parents. Starting in March, 2017 only parents together can decide on their child's religious affiliation. If a shared decision is not made the affiliation is left unspecified. The current law includes the possibility of the mother making such decisions alone.

The Ministry of Justice says that some 300 official registered partnerships are logged per year. In 2014 there were 2,435 registered relationships in Finland.

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