The Political Expat: Wagging the finger

Lately, I have learned that, sometimes, I have to get well and truly angry before I can face an empty computer screen, and write an article.

This month’s trigger was an image posted on Facebook, on a topic I feel passionate about: same-sex marriage. The image showed two maps of the United States: the top showing the states where same-sex marriage is legal, and the bottom showing the (more numerous) states where it is legal to marry your cousin.

The ensuing comments, raunchy and righteous by turns, made it clear what folks thought of both the US and their own cousins. I got mad, sat down in front of the computer, did some googling, and now you get to read the results. Lucky you.

First of all, the image makes the mistake of drawing a comparison between gay marriage and what the commentators obviously consider incest. In case we are not clear about this folks: incest and gay marriage is not the same.

Secondly, whether you and I approve or not, many cultures do not see marrying one’s cousin as incest. Instead, it is a well respected tradition around the world, and is legal in the Netherlands under laws protecting human rights. Yes, that’s right: marrying your cousin is legal in the entire Netherlands, not just parts of it that can be coloured orange on a map and posted on Facebook.

But the incest / gay marriage comparison did not get to me, really. Civil rights advocates get used to such ignorance. What did it, and triggered this month’s writing jag, was yet another Nederlander "wagging the finger" at the US’s behaviour on this issue. Again. After all, gay marriage is legal here, and only legal in some parts of the US.

This holier-than-thou attitude has simply got to stop. Why: not because US citizens - or bi-nationals, like me - cannot "take it," regardless of what the finger waggers likes to think. But because comparing the Netherlands to the US is just plain silly. In my humble opinion, of course.

Why? For many reasons; here is one: the Netherlands is a "Unitary State." This means the central government delegates only certain powers to its provinces or parts, and when the central government makes a law, the rest of the country follows it. (Unless they are weigerambtenaren, of course, but don't get me started…)

The United States, on the other hand is a "Republic," with the federal government holding only those powers delegated to it by the states. In other words, whatever you have heard about the Polder Model, the Netherlands is a top down country, and the US is a bottom up country.

In other other words: the feds cannot tell the individual states to legalise same-sex marriage (or marriage between cousins, for that matter); the states have to decide it individually. Which they are doing, one by one. Comparing the two countries is like comparing apples and oranges. There are similarities, but they are two different... uhhh... fruits, if you'll pardon the pun.

Another reason: the Netherlands has about 17 million residents, the US has about 300 million. That is not comparing apples and oranges, folks, that is comparing a mole hill and a mountain, as my daddy would say.

A better comparison would be between the United States and the European Union. The systems of governance are similar, with the EU member states delegating up, not down, regardless of what it looks like during the current financial crisis.

And the EU has 500 million residents: bigger, yes, but at least both unions are in the triple digits, kind of like a little mountain and a big mountain. The demographic comparison is also better. After all, everyone knows most US citizens are really just colonists left behind by Europe.

So let’s compare same-sex marriage in the EU and in the US.

The first EU member state to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2001, was the Netherlands - all of us have the right to cheer ourselves for that. But wait, what has happened since then? Since then, four other member states have legalised it: Belgium, Spain, Sweden and Portugal. In the US, Massachusetts was the first state to legalise gay marriage, in 2003.

Since then, five states (Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York), one District (the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.) and two Indian tribes (sovereign nations within the US) have legalised it, with a sixth state (California) battling it out in the courts as you read this.

Do the math: with fewer residents, a comparable cultural mix and a late start, the more states have legalised gay marriage in the US, than in the EU.

So what is my point? It is simple: get your finger out of my face. Does the US have some major work to do? Yes. Does the EU? Also yes. Are there good people doing the work in both Unions? Yes there are, and wagging your finger at them - regardless of what side of the water or issue they are on - does not help anyone.

If you want to help, put your fingers to better use: join an activist group (Love Exiles for example), write a letter, do some educating. Or heck, get yourself a monthly column somewhere..

Then we can all aim our passion, anger and writing skills at the right people - our Unitary and Federal governments who are moving too slow on this and so many other issues.

Donna DuCarme


Donna DuCarme

"Creative Facilitator" Donna DuCarme splits her time between the Netherlands and Scotland, and loves them both for very different reasons. Her training is in theatre, her work is in various...

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