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.

European Court of Human Rights Backs Icelandic Court in Hate Speech Case

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected a complaint from Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl, who was convicted for homophobic hate speech by the Supreme Court of Iceland. Carl Jóhann made homophobic comments in response to an online article in April 2015 and was eventually fined ISK 100,000 (around €800 at the time). The ECHR unanimously declared Carl Jóhann’s application inadmissible.

Comments Ruled “Serious, Severely Hurtful, and Prejudicial”

In April 2015, the local authorities of Hafnarfjörður, Southwest Iceland, approved a proposal to strengthen education in elementary and secondary schools on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender matters in co-operation with the National Queer Association (Samtökin ‘78). The decision led to substantial public discussion which Carl Jóhann became involved in. The case concerns comments he wrote in response to an online article on the issue, expressing his disgust and using derogatory words for homosexuality, namely kynvilla (sexual deviation) and kynvillingar (sexual deviants).

Samtökin ‘78 reported Carl’s comments to the police. Following an investigation, he was indicted in November 2016 under Article 233 (a) of the General Penal Code which penalises publicly mocking, defaming, denigrating or threatening a person or group of persons for certain characteristics, including their sexual orientation or gender identity. Though he was acquitted at first instance, in December 2017, the Supreme Court overturned the court’s judgment and convicted him, fining him ISK 100,000.

The Supreme Court found that the applicant’s comments were “serious, severely hurtful and prejudicial,” and weighing up the competing rights at play in the case, ruled that it was justified and necessary to curb the applicant’s freedom of expression in order to counteract prejudice, hatred and contempt and protect the rights of social groups which have historically been subjected to discrimination.

Argued Freedom of Expression Was Breached

Carl Jóhann lodged a complaint with the ECHR alleging that the Supreme Court’s conviction had breached his freedom of expression. The ECHR has now rejected the complaint, finding, like the Supreme Court of Iceland, “that the comments had promoted intolerance and hatred of homosexuals,” according to a press release from the Court. The release goes on to say that, although the comments did not amount to the “gravest” form of hate speech as it was not immediately clear that they had aimed at inciting violence, they fell under the court’s definition of “less grave” hate speech, which the court has previously held that states were allowed to restrict.

The ECHR found that the Supreme Court of Iceland “had extensively weighed the competing interests at stake, namely the applicant’s right to freedom of expression against the rights of homosexual persons to private life. The Court therefore found that the applicant’s complaint […] was manifestly ill-founded and rejected it as inadmissible.”

Iceland Cosigns Statement Against Brutal, Discriminatory Law in Brunei

Iceland is one of thirty-six countries to cosign a statement urging the government of Brunei to revoke changes to its penal code which legalize a range of violent and brutal punishments for acts such as robbery, rape, adultery and sexual conduct with a same-sex partner. RÚV reports that all of the cosignatories are part of the Equal Rights Commission, an intergovernmental body “dedicated to the protection of the rights of LGBTI people.”

“The undersigned members of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) express profound dismay at the decision of Brunei to fully implement its revised Penal Code,” reads the statement, which was published on the Canadian government’s website. “As part of the full implementation which became effective on April 3, 2019, provisions have been introduced prescribing a range of penalties including amputation of limbs, whipping and stoning to death for specific acts identified as offences in the Code.”

“These extreme penalties raise serious concerns in light of Brunei’s international human rights obligations and commitments,” the statement continues. “They also have a detrimental impact on a number of vulnerable groups in Brunei, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, women and children.”

Commenting on Brunei’s new penalties, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote that “[i]t’s sad that to this day, LGBTQ people are subjected to such persecution at the hands of their governments…The rights of LGBTQ people are a fundamental part of Iceland’s human rights policy and we put a great deal of emphasis on them in our work with the Human Rights Commission. These rights aren’t relative, but stand always, everywhere. Which is why we cannot and may not let the government in Brunei’s decision pass without reproof.”

Gay Men May Soon Be Able to Donate Blood, Within Limits

Gay men may soon be permitted to give blood in Iceland, albeit within restricted parameters, RÚVreports. According to information from the Ministry of Welfare, epidemiologists believe that it should be permissible for gay men to give blood, although there would still be significant restrictions in place, namely that gay blood donors will be required to have been abstinent for six months prior to donation.

Per the Ministry, risk assessment of other nations has shown that this arrangement—allowing gay men to donate blood after six months of abstinence—involves little to no risk of bloodborne infection. The ministry requested an epidemiological review of the issue this summer and the previous two Ministers of Health— Kristján Þór Júlíusson and Óttarr Proppé— both expressed an interest in reviewing the current blood donation restrictions. The current Minister, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, is currently reviewing the issue and taking into account the advice of medical professionals. She’s expected to make a decision on the issue soon.

Restrictions on blood donation based on sexual history and/or orientation vary throughout the world, but while many countries have lifted permanent bans on gay men donating blood, many still require that “men who have sex with men” defer blood donation for anywhere from three months to a fullyear.

Reykjavík Pride Begins Today

Pride Week celebrations were kicked off today at noon with the painting of a rainbow on Skólavörðustígur street in downtown Reykjavík. The first rollers were set to the pavement by Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson alongside the members of the executive committee of Reykjavík Pride.

Painting a rainbow is a Reykjavík Pride tradition which marks the formal start of six days of Pride festivities. The rainbow has been painted at various locations in the city centre, including from the doors of the city hall and Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík junior college. While the executive committee and the mayor usually begin the painting, all are welcome to join in – and bringing your own paintbrush is recommended.

Reykjavík Pride will take place from August 7-12 this year, with the Pride Parade scheduled for Saturday, August 11 at 2.00pm. The parade concludes near Hljómskálagarður park, where an outdoor concert will take place.

Readers can visit the Reykjavík Pride website for the week’s complete programme.