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Topics In the News
Openly Gay Finnish Leader in Run-off for Presidency
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/23/12
Last updated on: 02/05/12
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Pekka Haavisto (right) with partner Antonio Flores in a 2010 television interview (YouTube video still).

As a result of the first round of the Finnish presidential election on January 22, 2012, Pekka Haavisto, openly gay leader of the Green League, will face Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party in the February 5, 2012 run-off. With 100% of the votes tallied, Niinistö, the favorite, received 37% of the vote and Haavisto 19%, with the remainder split between six other candidates.

The outcome of the first round is seen as a rebuke to the right-wing FINNS party, whose candidate received less than 10% of the vote.

Former finance minister Niinistö remains the favorite to win the run-off and assume the Presidency, but Haavisto is a credible candidate. He is regarded as a bridge-builder who reaches out to other parties.

Haavisto served as a member of the Parliament of Finland from 1987 to 1995. He became the chairperson of the Green League in 1993 and served as the Minister of the Environment from 1995 to 1999. He was the first European cabinet minister from a Green party.

From 1999 to 2005, Haavisto worked for the United Nations, principally on environmental issues. In 2005 he particated in the Darfur peace talks as the special representative of the European Union in the Sudan.

In 2007 and 2011 Haavisto was elected to Parliament from a Helsinki electoral district. He lives in a registered partnership with Antonio Flores, originally from Ecuador.

If Haavisto wins the election, he will join Elio Di Rupo of Belgium and Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland as openly gay or lesbian Prime Ministers of European countries.

Haavisto's homosexuality seems not to have been an issue in the election, although some members of the FINNS party have in the past made anti-gay comments.

In October 2010, homophobia surfaced in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which is the state church supported by voluntary taxation. After a television program on homosexuality and the church was seen as homophobic, more than 20,000 people resigned from the church within a span of a week.

In response to the resignations, taxes directed toward the church plummeted by more than 2 million euros, forcing it to cut various programs. The resignations also led to the Archbishop issuing a statement emphasizing that attitudes toward homosexuality in the church are more diverse than the views of a few extreme individuals.

The television program also sparked an intense debate within the state church about its stance toward gay couples, especially those in registered partnerships, which were adopted in 2001 and which afford same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

Finally, in November 2010, the General Synod of the church voted to permit pastors to offer prayers on behalf of same-sex couples, though not to offer a blessing as is done in traditional weddings.

Seta, the Finnish national organization for sexual equality, called the Synod's decision a step towards equality for sexual minorities in Finnish society, though its chair, Outi Hannula, noted that there is still a long way to go towards full equality in the church.

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