Dutch Senate expands constitutional ban on discrimination

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FILE - A large rainbow flag flies from the bell tower of Wester Church to mark the 20th anniversary of the first legalized same-sex marriage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on April 1, 2021. The Dutch Senate on Tuesday, Jan, 17, 2023 approved a change to the country's constitution, expanding its first article to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or disability, a move hailed as historic by rights groups. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE – The Dutch Senate on Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's constitution, expanding its first article to specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or disability, a move hailed as historic by rights groups.

The constitution's updated Article 1 mandates that all people in the country must be treated equally and that “discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, political opinion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or on any other basis is not allowed.”

Astrid Oosenbrug, chair of the country's COC gay rights organization, called the vote “a historic victory for the rainbow community and a crown on years of work" by the group.

She said it was “an emotional moment when, after all these years, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of constitutional recognition this afternoon. At last, LGBTI+ rights are proudly mentioned in Article 1 and are no longer concealed.”

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage, but members of its LGBTQ community continue to suffer verbal and sometimes physical abuse in this country that has long been seen as a bastion of tolerance.

Oosenbrug said the constitutional change should be seen by lawmakers as an assignment to “tackle discriminatory violence, bullying in schools and other forms of discrimination.”

A group called Ieder(in), which represents people with disabilities and chronic illness, also welcomed the vote.

“Adding the disability basis to Article 1 is historic news,” the organization's director, Illya Soffer, said in a statement. “The government has been given an additional task to permanently improve and strengthen the position of people with a disability. Not only in law, but also in practice. This is badly needed, because at the moment they experience discrimination and exclusion every day in their lives."

The move was initiated by three lawmakers in the lower house of Dutch parliament, two from opposition parties and a third from the centrist D66 party, which is part of the ruling four-party coalition led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Dutch Constitution dates back to 1798 and has been updated several times since then. Tweaking the document is a long process. Changes must be approved by a majority of both houses of parliament, then a second reading can only happen once national elections have happened and then both houses must approve any change with a two-thirds majority.

The latest change was approved Tuesday by 56 senators, while 15 voted against the proposal in the 75-member senate.

“The constitution forms the foundation of our society. It is important that we keep it up to date," Interior Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said.