Ten Years Since Iceland Legalised Same-Sex Marriage

It has been ten years since Iceland passed the law that made it legal for same-sex couples to wed, RÚV reports.

Iceland had previously legalised domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in 1996. These partnerships carried the same rights and obligations as marriage. Adoption for same-sex couples was then legalised in 2006.

Former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her wife, author and playwright Jónína Leósdóttir, were among the first LGBTQ+ couples to wed once the marriage law passed; the couple married the day the new law went into effect. The passage of this law did not, however, remove all hurdles to same-sex couples in Iceland marrying. Indeed, clergy in the National Church of Iceland were legally allowed to refuse same-sex couples on the basis of their personal convictions until 2015.

Iceland was the ninth nation in the world to legalise same-sex marriage; The Netherlands was the first, in 2001, followed by Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010). There are currently only 29 countries in which same-sex marriage is legal.

Amnesty International Calls on Iceland to Respect ‘Diverse Bodies’

A new report issued by Amnesty International uses case studies in Iceland to show how a lack of supportive legislation leads to people “born with variations of sex characteristics – who sometimes describe themselves as ‘intersex’” facing social stigma, discrimination, and potentially harmful surgical procedures.

The report calls particular attention to the Bill on Sexual and Gender Autonomy that is set to come before parliament at the end of February. Although Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has emphasized that this bill is part of her government’s commitment to being on the vanguard of LGBTQIA issues, Amnesty International asserts that it “…lacks essential protections for children. In particular, it includes no provisions to end ‘normalising’ non-emergency, invasive and irreversible surgeries on children born with variations of sex characteristics.”

Amnesty International estimates that there are roughly 6,000 people in Iceland “…with sex characteristics – genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes or reproductive organs – which vary from the established norms for ‘male’ and ‘female’”. The organization says that during its study of the country, it “found evidence that in Iceland, people who are born with variations of sex characteristics struggle to access healthcare that is appropriate and centres on their human rights, which in some cases can cause lasting harm.”

The organization also spoke to Kitty Anderson, the founder of Intersex Iceland, who echoed their observations, saying “[g]ood healthcare is so hard to get because we are seen as ‘disorders’ that need to be fixed…A lot of the health issues that arise are because of the treatment that we got as children. We wouldn’t have all these cases of osteopenia or osteoporosis if we hadn’t gone through gonadectomies as children and incompetent hormone therapy as teenagers.”

In closing, Amnesty International called on the Icelandic government to “…create a specialised, multidisciplinary team for the medical treatment of children and of adults with variations of sex characteristics” and to “…develop and implement a rights-based healthcare protocol for individuals with variations of sex characteristics to guarantee their bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination.”

Read Amnesty International’s full statement on this issue, “Iceland: Diverse bodies are not mistakes to be corrected,” in English, here.

Companies Put Off Proving Equal Pay

Around 120 companies could face daily fines in January if they do not obtain equal pay certification. The certification, meant to combat the gender wage gap, requires businesses to prove they are paying men and women equally for comparable work. RÚV reports that out of 142 companies with 250 employees or more, only 16, or 11%, have received equal pay certification.

While smaller businesses have up to four years to become certified, companies of 250 employees were given one year to complete the process. Those who do not obtain the certification by the January deadline could face daily fines of up to ISK 50,000 ($470/€400).

“We have of course emphasised trying to encourage most companies to finish this before the end of the year,” says Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Social Affairs and Equality. He adds that the government has increased funding to the project in order to encourage companies to complete the process.

Only three companies in Iceland currently issue the certification, raising concerns that it will be impossible to complete it by the end of the year.