This year marks the 50th anniversary since homosexuality was decriminalized in Norway. Though notably a more progressive society than other many countries worldwide, Norway still has had a long struggle to achieve LGBT equality. A recent Posten Christmas advertisement, with a Gay Santa, highlights just how mainstream and accepted the LGBTI+ community is here in Norway today.
When Harry met Santa
This year the Norwegian Postal Service (Posten) has created a very special and unique advertisement for Christmas. Titled “When Harry met Santa,” it is a 3-minute short film that shows the development of a budding romance between Santa Claus and a gay man named Harry. It has since gone viral and made international headlines the world over – which isn’t so bad for the bottom line of Posten.
The advertisement, aside from its smart promotional and marketing value, was made to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the repeal of Section 213 of the Norwegian Penal Code on April 21, 1972. This is seen as the starting point of a long journey for the LGBTI+ community towards freedom and equality.
Section 213: Passed in the early 20th century, repealed at the end of it
With Norway now one of the most LGBT-friendly and progressive societies in the world, it is almost unbelievable that sex, between consenting men, was, up until the early 1970s, an official illegal act. Yet up until 1972, this was the case. The Penal Code of 1902, Section 213, made homosexual sex illegal. It stated that “..if indecent intercourse occurs between male persons, those, who have committed or have been accessory to such intercourse, are liable to a term of imprisonment up to 1 year.”
For the vast majority of the 20th century, Norway had rules and laws which were drafted exclusively by men not only born in the 19th century but possessing mindsets that hark back to the medieval period. It was illegal for consenting men to have relations whilst there was no such reference for the sexual activity between women. Women had so little agency, voice, and power, for much of this period, that somewhat luckily laws regarding lesbian relations were not passed as women were simply and routinely ignored.
Simply a “disease” to repealment
With the establishment of the welfare state, in the post-war period, and a series of Labor governments (nominally more progressive than those on the right side of politics) attitudes began to change in Norway. The first mention of a repeal of the law came in the 1950s.
In 1953, the Criminal Law Council moved to repeal this law. It was the opinion of the Council that “…it may appear to be an injustice to punish a person for homosexual acts that are a consequence of a characteristic of him that cannot be blamed on him. Homosexuality is as far as the same kind as a disease or bodily defect.” In other words, homosexuality is a disease and thus gay people cannot be held liable for their actions.
Though the intentions to repeal the law were good, the reasoning was ludicrous. Homosexuality is no more a disease than heterosexuality is. The members of the Criminal Law Council, one assumes, were learned men and this was the establishment’s view of homosexuality in the mid-20th century.
By the 1960s, Norway had started to change. Widespread immigration occurred for the first time to a country that historically had experienced mass emigration. The growing social and political progressive awakening of the country’s youth along with grassroots campaigns caused public pressure to repeal the law. On April 21, 1973, the law was finally repealed helped, in no small part, by famous gay rights activist Kim Friele.
The new millennium brought in new attitudes and laws
Yet it took more than two decades after the repealing of Section 213 for more equality and freedom for the LGBT community. Same-sex registered partnerships were introduced on August 1, 1993. This meant that gay and lesbian couples could legally enter into a civil union. This was amended in 2001 to allow same-sex couples to legally adopt. Marriage, for same-sex couples, however, was still elusive.
Society became more tolerant and accepting of the LGBT community in the 2000s. During this time, the then Finance Minister, Per-Kristian Foss, made headlines as being the first openly gay politician. Foss and his partner entered into a registered partnership during this time.
2004 was a landmark year for equality. A bill was proposed, by two Socialist Left (SV) Storing members, to make marriage gender-neutral. This would, in all effects and purposes, legalize same-sex marriage. It would take another 4 years for the bill to be voted on with the backing of Jens Stoltenberg’s (Ap) Second center left-wing led government. The Stoltenberg government introduced a law legalizing gay marriage and granting the same rights for gay and lesbian couples as heterosexual couples. This was passed on June 27, 2008, coming into effect from January 1, 2009. Finally, same-sex marriage was legal. The Church of Norway passed legislation to perform same-sex marriages in 2017.
Vale Kim Friele
The recent passing of Kim Friele highlights how that generation of gay rights pioneers, who actively fought and struggled for freedom and equality, are thinning in number. She dedicated much of her life to championing gay and lesbian rights and pushing for full equality before the law. Thanks to her tireless work same-sex couples can be married in a Church and have full legal recognition. With her work, along with many other activists and campaigners, Norwegian society has become more accepting, tolerant, and progressive.
Tapping into this tolerance is the Posten Christmas ad which does more than just promote Christmas delivery for the postal service. It shows how mainstream and accepted the LGBT community has become in Norway. Little more than half a century ago homosexuality was deemed a disease by the legal establishment. Now it is being celebrated with a festive twist by a government agency.
The struggle for LGBT rights and equality still goes on as intolerance still exists. A recent spate of acts of vandalism throughout Norway shows that there is more education and work to be done. Yet the Posten ad highlights how far Norway has come since 1972.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.
About the author:
Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.
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