Iceland’s Prime Minister Marries Female Partner

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 29, 2010

She was the first openly gay head of state. Now Iceland's prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, 68, has broken new ground once more, with her marriage to longtime civil partner Jonina Leosdottir.

Sigurdardottir took the reigns in Iceland early in 2009, in the midst of a severe economic crisis. By that time, she and Leosdottir had already been in a civil partnership for seven years, having formalized their union in 2002 to the full extent allowed under Icelandic law at that time.

But times have changed, and as of June 27 Iceland has joined the handful of nations around the world--including Spain, Canada, and South Africa--that grants full family parity to gays and lesbians. The new law was passed by a unanimous vote of Iceland's parliament on June 12. When the new law granting marriage equality to gay and lesbian families came into effect, Sigurdardottir and Leosdottir lost no time in applying to have their civil partnership upgraded to full legal marriage, reported U.K. newspaper The Telegraph on June 28.

Iceland has long been a relatively friendly nation toward its gay and lesbian citizens, recounted Icelandic blog the Iceland Weather Reportin a June 27 post. In 1996, Iceland extended civil partnerships to gay and lesbian couples. And while there has been some faith-based bias expressed against gay and lesbian families, even that appears to be changing: "The Bishop over Iceland, Hr. Karl Sigurbjörnsson, yesterday apologized publicly to gays and lesbians for a comment that he made in an interview in 2006, where he said that allowing gays and lesbians to marry was akin to 'trashing' the institution of marriage," reported the Iceland Weather Report. "A great number of ministers in the church openly opposed this view and lobbied for the law to be changed--which was finally done a couple of weeks ago."

In the United States, by contrast, only six states allow same-sex families to wed, and even then the rights and protections offered are limited to the state level. Federal law--the 1996 so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act--bans any federal recognition of same-sex families, with the result that gay families are faced with a wildly disparate patchwork of rights and protections from state to state.

Major religions, most notably the Catholic Church and the Mormon faith, have mounted fierce national campaigns in the U.S. to restrict the rights of same-sex families, and in 2008 voters in California stripped gays and lesbians of then-existing marital rights when an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution, Proposition 8, was narrowly approved via ballot initiative after a bitter and deeply divisive campaign funded largely by the Mormon church's national membership.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.