Icelandic Leader in Milestone Gay Marriage
STOCKHOLM (AP) - Iceland’s prime minister made history last week when she wed her girlfriend, becoming the world’s first head of government to enter a gay marriage.
But fellow Nordic nations hardly noticed when 67-year-old Johanna Sigurdardottir tied the knot with her longtime partner - a milestone that would still, despite advances in gay rights, be all but inconceivable elsewhere.
Scandinavia has had a long tradition of tolerance - and cross-dressing lawmakers and gay bishops have become part of the landscape.
"There is some kind of passion for social justice here," respected cross-dressing Swedish lawmaker Fredrick Federley said. "That everybody should be treated the same."
Gay rights activists said Europe in general has a better record on accepting gays at the highest levels of government than the United States.
"In the current climate of U.S. public opinion it is impossible to imagine a U.S. president who is openly gay and who marries their longtime partner," said Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the London-based gay human rights group Outrage.
"In Europe the reaction is completely different - people just don’t care."
Although no openly gay American has made a potentially winning run for president, gay men and lesbians have made significant advances in recent years in winning other elected offices in the United States, often while being open about their same-sex partners.
In Europe, the situation varies.
Several top-level politicians are openly gay, including Sweden’s Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, considered a possible contender for the 2012 presidential elections.
But a gay head of government would be impossible in strong Catholic nations.
"We will never see a gay prime minister in Italy. The power of the Catholic Church is too strong," said Giuseppina Massallo, 60, from Sicily who lives in Rome. "We have institutions that make us believe that ... being homosexual is simply not the right thing to do."
The 32-year-old Federley occasionally swaps his parliamentary suit and tie for heavy makeup and revealing dresses as drag queen Ursula. Federley has been openly gay for nine years and his sexual identity has never been an issue in politics.
His cross-dressing only hit the headlines when critics in February questioned which Federley accepted an alleged media junket to the Canary Islands: Fredrik the lawmaker or Ursula the drag queen?