Thursday, April 3, 2008

A belated marriage as a 50th birthday gift

During the weekend I called home and talked with my nephew who is 24 years old this year. I asked about his girlfriend, and asked whether they were planning to get married. He said, 'we both felt that marriage is only a piece of paper. Maybe when we decided to have a kid, we might get married for that'. Okay, I agree. When I was in China, I seemed to agree that the legal marriage certificate is the most important sign for a married couple. When Mr. and Mrs. Aawara got married, a social wedding was regarded as much more important than the certificate. Your relatives and friends recognize you as a couple only if they witness the wedding.

Different countries have different culture. Here in the Netherlands, marriage seems to be even more treated as 'a piece of paper'. When we just came here, Mr. Aawara's office-mate told him that 'his girlfriend is pregnant, and he is going to take parental leave'. We were both shocked to hear. A friend's brother didn't like to get married although his kid is in high school. The lady wanted, but was ok to live without a certificate with him. Recently she had her 50th birthday, and he gave her the marriage vow as the birthday gift! They were both very happy. I have heard before that 50th birthday is very important for Dutch people.

All these are due to the partnership law in 1997. In the Netherlands, Once marriage stops being about binding mothers and fathers together for the sake of the children they create, the need to get married gradually disappears. Some argued that this was due to the successful campaign for same-sex marriage, in which they tried to differentiate marriage from parenthood. This also led to the spike in Dutch out-of-wedlock birthrates, which I don't feel it makes sense to calculate any more in the Dutch context. Convince the public that marriage is not about parenthood, and increasingly parents simply stop getting married. Being registered as partners in the city hall, you have the full range of benefit that the legal married couple have: welfare benefit and tax breaks as well.

When we first moved in this current apartment, our landlady asked me, are you bf-gf, or couples. I hurriedly said, 'we are married'. And I also added, ' you live together without getting married?' Why not? Many people are like this in the Netherlands. Now thinking back, my questions was really not a question here in the Netherlands.

Since I mentioned a little about the same-sex marriage, really I haven't noticed any gay/lesbian couples here. I remember in US, people would like to announce their existences, by either putting a rainbow sticked on their car bumper, or raising a rainbow flag out of their windows. I have seen their signs many times in Providence, where the city mayor was a gay. I remember that in Denver there was a gaylord street where they liked to live. There is a 'King-sooper' grocery was called 'Queen-sooper' since you could see lots of gay couples there. However in the Netherlands, I haven't noticed any sign. I asked my Dutch friends, she said you know it exists if you know them personally. They are just part of everyone. Since their rights are protected well, there is no need to show up. Netherlands was the first country that legalized same-sex marriage in 2001.

The picture is from here.

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