Amsterdam, Netherlands Anne-Marie Thus and Helene Faasen lead a routine domestic life for a Dutch couple engaged to be wed. Living together for two years, they have a car, a mortgage on a three-story town house and a 9-month-old child.
"We're just a run-of-the-mill couple," said Thus, toweling the baby after his bath. "Two people with a family and a household. The only thing that's different is that we're two women."
Sunday, they will become the world's first lesbians to be officially married, under legislation recognizing same-sex marriages with full and equal rights.
The law, enacted last year, takes effect at midnight today. Moments later, four gay couples Thus and Faasen and three male couples will exchange vows and rings at a joint wedding in Amsterdam's city hall.
Several other countries register same-sex couples and some even call them marriages. But the Dutch legislation goes a step further, eliminating all references to gender in the laws governing matrimony and adoption.
Gays have enjoyed general acceptance for years in the Netherlands, but gay rights groups struggled for 15 years for laws wiping away the last barriers of discrimination. For many, the right to use the term "spouse" is most significant.
"I want to show the world I'm proud of my country," said Dolf Pasker, a 41-year-old social worker, who will marry his partner, 39-year-old Gert Kasteel on Sunday. The two have been together for six years.
"I will be able to say I'm married just like my mother and father," said Kasteel, a medical supplies purchaser, relaxing in their home in an affluent Amsterdam neighborhood.
Both couples said they expected many relatives to attend the ceremony. Thus said her 88-year-old grandmother will stay up to watch it broadcast live on television.
The collective midnight wedding was the idea of Gay Krant, a gay newspaper that had led the campaign for the new legislation. Under the law, the Dutch constitution and dictionary have redefined marriage, dropping references to "man and woman."
Like heterosexuals, gay couples also may apply for court approval to adopt children after living together for three years. Legal ambiguities on inheritance, pension rights, taxes and alimony have vanished.
Thus gave birth to her son last year after artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. Faasen plans to adopt the child and have her name entered into municipal records as parent No. 2.
Although their marriage may be unusual, the two women live an ordinary life in an Amsterdam suburb. Faasen, 35, is a partner in a downtown legal office; Thus works part time at a nursing home. They share child-rearing responsibilities.
Foreigners expecting Las Vegas-style weddings will be disappointed. Only Dutch nationals or resident foreigners living with a Dutch partner will be eligible for same-sex marriages.