Boris Dittrich helped introduce same-sex marriage in the Netherlands in 2001.
As the coalition government continues its fight for equal marriage, facing opposition from religious leaders and the likes of Ann Widdicombe, ministers might want to compare notes with Boris Dittrich. Now employed as LGBT advocacy director by Human Rights Watch, between 1994 and 2006 he was a member of parliament - and later leader - of the Dutch social liberal party Democrats 66, who first proposed same-sex marriage in the Netherlands.
'At the time we didn't even have registered partnership or civil unions, unlike a lot of Scandinavin countries' says Dittrich. 'It got a lot of attention in the media. People wrote to me and shared their personal stories and then I was motivated to fight for it until the end.'
Fight for it he did, and in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to introduce same-sex civil marriage. 'There was much opposition,' he says. 'Of course from the Christian parties, but also from the government. The Prime Minister said: “People will mock us! They already scold us for our marijuana policies in coffee shops and now you come to me with same-sex marriage!”'
What about those who say we should be content with civil partnerships? It's all about equality, he says. 'I was also a strong advocate for civil partnerships for heterosexual couples, in order not to discriminate.'
And what advice would he give to British ministers fighting for marriage equality in the face of opposition? 'Religious leaders in the Netherlands predicted all kinds of disasters if we introduced same-sex marriage,' he says. 'God would punish us! There would be all kinds of natural disasters! Nothing happened. Maybe someone will blame the gays for the euro crisis. But I haven't heard that yet!'
THREE OTHER COUNTRIES WHERE IT'S LEGAL
The first country in Latin America to recognise same-sex marriage.
SOUTH AFRICA (2006)
The second country outside Europe to make it legal - after Canada.
A week ago, the Constitutional Court ruled against repealing the law.