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Willem Jeths,
Composer Laureate of The Netherlands
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2011

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14 March 2011
Monument to a Universal Marriage


On April 1st 2001 a revolutionary change was made to the Dutch Civil Code. On that day, the legislator decided that same-sex partners could lawfully enter into a civil marriage. Since then, the formal civil marriage has been open, on exactly the same footing, to individuals of the same or different sex.

This applies to civil weddings, not church weddings, i.e. to a decision, regulated by the legislator, of two individuals to have their mutual and enduring commitment of care registered in front of a register official, with all the lawful rights and duties this entails, both with regard to one another and third parties.

The Dutch legislator explicitly decided to open up the existing civil marriage and not to opt for a separate form of marriage for individuals of the same sex. As a result, there are no so-called ‘gay marriages’ in the Netherlands, only universal civil marriages, a fully equal civil right within the Law, universally registered in Local Registry Offices.

The idea behind universally regulating relationship rights for all couples and to change the Civil Code to that effect, did not originate from parliament or a political movement. Neither did the blueprint for opening up civil marriages come from government or a ministry.
Both idea and concept were developed in the Brabant town of Best.
Since the early Eighties of the twentieth century, resident jurist Jan Wolter Wabeke had been closely following the developments in how the mutual rights of same-sex couples were being secured. Said developments increasingly entailed formally laying down mutual rights and duties, initially in relationship contracts, later in notarial deeds. Said registrations, however, still left huge grey areas and uncertainties in case of the death of one partner or in case of a divorce.
In areas such as the law of succession, rent law, adoption law, pension law as well as social benefits, lasting relationships between same-sex individuals were barely recognized or respected.

Not only was this situation socially problematic, in a sense it was also illogical. By that time the formal consequences (such as the right to social benefits, or possible fiscal consequences) for two cohabiting individuals of the same or different sex had been the same for a number of years. Both in politics and science, forms of cohabitation without marital bonds were becoming increasingly socially acceptable. In various domains new types of cohabitation resulted in rules being adapted. Yet no proposals were being made to make radical changes in the field of relationship rights inside the civil law.

In 1988 Jan Wolter Wabeke devised a concept for a civil marriage of same-sex individuals. The idea was to make a number of changes to the existing Family Law, while at the same time maintaining the essential elements of civil marriage, Ante-Nuptial settlement provided by Law and the lawful consequences of the marital status. According to him this was perfectly possible within the framework of civil law and such changes would barely infringe upon the social order in both the legal and economic sense. By the same token, those changes would crucially change the formalization of relationship rights in a way that would do justice to the social reality.

Wabeke also mapped out a step-by-step, long-range plan with corresponding campaigns to bring his plan to fruition.
He presented the above concepts to Henk Krol, editor in chief of Gaykrant and also a resident of Best. Henk Krol was also a former information official for the Liberal-Conservative party VVD and had a huge network of connections in both the press and politics.

Wabeke and Krol decided to form a coalition, the former as conceiver and advisor, Krol as campaign leader, both of them equally determined to have a Parliamentary majority open up the civil marriage to all couples. Two same-sex couples (male and female) volunteered to act as prospective marital couples going through the many phases and steps in the campaign. University lecturer Kees Waaldijk and family lawyer Loes Gijbels joined Wabeke and Krol to form a think-tank that would function as their HQ directing events from Best.

Various intermediary steps, test cases, media appearances, political debates later, with the help of a strong lobby and growing political support – from top politicians belonging to various parties, amongst others former minister Aad Kosto, former MP Boris Dittrich, Amsterdam alderman Anne-Lize van der Stoel - a law was adopted in 1997 made a formally registered partnership possible. This registered partnership, in front of a Register official, offered same-sex partners largely the same regulation, relationship rights and duties as civil marriages.

However, socially and politically this Registered Partnership was still seen as a ‘gay marriage’, which was not at all what Wabeke and Krol had in mind. From the day the Registered Partnership was adopted, further campaigns were undertaken and efforts made from within their Best HQ to force the legislator to take one last step: that of fully opening up civil marriage (as had been originally intended) and creating a universal marriage form for all couples wishing to enter a mutual commitment of care with all the rights, duties and legal protection that entails.

In 2001 new bills, brought before both Houses by Justice Vice-Minister Job Cohen, were approved and as of April 1st 2001 article 30 of the Dutch Civil Code reads: ‘Marriage can be entered into by two individuals of the same and different sex’.

On that day, the idea - thought up in the Brabant town of Best - and all campaigns for a universal civil wedding directed from its very own HQ, brought about a revolutionary change in Dutch matrimonial law. The revolutionary example was followed in other countries: in Belgium in 2003 and since then also in other European countries and elsewhere. Today, same-sex couples can also get married in other countries worldwide.

In 2009, the Best town council decided to commission a piece of music to celebrate the tenth anniversary of universal civil marriage that will act as a monument to this Best initiative. Best commissioned the famous composer Willem Jeths to write an occasional piece. It is a piece for two voices, string quartet and clarinet. Its lyrics come from an Egyptian 18th-dynasty epitaph and are an ode to love and partnership.

The world premiere of this piece of music, attended by various prominent guests, is held on Friday April 1st 2011 in Best, exactly ten years after the law opened up civil marriage.

After the world premiere, the music will be performed countrywide. Other countries too have shown an interest. At each performance, the fact that the piece of music was commissioned by the Best municipality will be highlighted, as well as the music’s very own genesis.
The same goes for the recording on DVD and/or CD.
The world premiere in Best on April 1st has the support of Het Blauwe Fonds www.blauwefonds.nl, a foundation set up by petition to perpetuate and protect gay emancipation and to allocate funds for initiatives that may help further that aim. The foundation has allocated a budget to help finance prominent musicians to practise for and perform this concert. Rabo bank also sponsors the event.