Old Amsterdam sends New Amsterdam a love note

Four hundred years ago, the Dutch East India Company dispatched from Amsterdam the Englishman Henry Hudson to find the fabled northwest passage, a route to the Orient.  He was stymied in that endeavor by a river that didn’t run through it (the Hudson), but along the way, on September 11, 1609, he did “discover” Manhattan Island.  The Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam would be founded there in 1625.

This Spring, Amsterdam sent out a different sort of emissary.  Not emissaries of corporate greed, but emissaries of love seeking to celebrate the freedom of marriage equality with their New Yorker cousins.  Five LGBT bi-national Dutch-American couples followed the emissaries back to the canals of Amsterdam to wed there on August 1, 2009, Gay Pride day.

Picture caption: “Dutch-born Stephan Hengst, right, puts a ring on the finger of his husband Patrick Decker, who was born in U.S., after being married by Amsterdam’s Mayor Job Cohen, center. Cohen married five American-Dutch gay couples on Saturday. All five couples had at least one partner from New York, where a battle over the legalization of gay marriage rages on.”

The mayor of Amsterdam married five American-Dutch gay couples on Saturday in an implicit criticism of the lack of same-sex marriage in many U.S. states.

Tens of thousands of spectators cheered as Mayor Job Cohen performed the ceremony on a cruise around the city’s canals to celebrate the high point of the city’s gay pride festival. Eight years ago Cohen presided over the first legal Dutch gay marriage.

All five couples had at least one partner from New York, where a battle over the legalization of gay marriage rages on.

“For me it’s a message to New York, the most liberal state, the most hip state, to get with it,” said Ira Siff, an opera professional from New York who was about to marry his partner, opera singer Hans Heijnis.

The event was organized by Mayor Cohen himself, to increase awareness of marriage (in)equality in New York during the shared Amsterdam-New York Hudson River quadricentennial.

Of course in this day and age, marriage between two people of the same sex or gender isn’t just a matter of love, like it or not it’s a matter of politics.  The Dutch parliamentarian Boris Dittrich, who in 1994 introduced the Netherlands’ first gay marriage bill and now is an advocacy director at New York’s Human Rights Watch, was on hand for the festivities and kept the light of reality shining.  “We want to show to the American public that gay couples cannot get immigration, cannot get equal rights like heterosexual couples can” Dittrich said.  Uniting American Families Act, anyone?

Although these newleyweds’ civil marriages won’t be recognized by the US federal government or most state governments, they will be recognized by New York state thanks to Governor David Patterson’s executive order of May 14, 2008.  Marriage equality legislation already passed in the New York Assembly this May 89-52, but is stalled in the Chamber of Chaos Senate.

“We are hoping our efforts and our visibility will change some people’s minds about how important marriage equality is in New York” said Stephan Hengst (pictured above).  Hengst is communications director at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  A recurring Siena Research Institute poll shows that about 50% of New Yorkers want the NY Senate to pass the marriage equality bill.



* Immigration Equality: At last, a real chance for reform that includes same-sex couples

* NY: Gillibrand and Schumer send letter to lawmakers urging passage of marriage equality bill

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