The Estonian TV investigative programme “Eyewitness” (Pealtnägija) sent one of it‘s editors, Piret Järvis, to Iceland to make a programme about same-sex marriage in Iceland and compare it to the rights of queer people in Estonia. The programme recently aired and received lots of positive response.
But why do a program about queer rights in Iceland?
“Last October I visited Iceland and as I usually do on my travels I wanted to do some reporting there as well. Therefore I started to look for possible topics to cover and while doing my research I happened to stumble upon an article about your president Gudni Johannesson and how he is supposedly the first head of state to give a speech at a Pride Parade. This piece of information caught my attention since my home country Estonia is just in the middle of a debate on how to perceive same-sex relationships.
On the 1st of January 2016 the law which enables registered partnerships for same-sex couples took effect, although due to an active opposition the implementing measures have yet to be passed by the Parliament. Which means that the law is still somewhat floating in the air.“
How was the program received? Do you know how many viewers saw it?
“Usually when we touch topics related to same-sex unions the feedback from conservative viewers can be quite stormy. Just recently we had a report on an American-Estonian lesbian couple that were wed in the USA but whose marriage wasn’t seen as legal in Estonia, which caused quite a stir among the viewers. Therefore I was prepared that my Icelandic report would get some angry feedback as well. Interestingly the feedback this time wasn’t as stormy. On the contrary there were a lot of thankful viewers who expressed their gratitude for bringing this topic up. The week the report was aired our show gathered 163.000 viewers and with that result we were the most-watched show of the country that week.“
Would you say there’s a huge difference between the attitude of Estonians and Icelanders regarding gay and queer rights?
“There definitely is some difference. Iceland seems to be in the frontline when it comes to being tolerant towards sexual minorities. It seems that the younger generation in Estonia is also fairly tolerant towards different minorities, like gays or immigrants, but there are many conservative
“Usually when we touch topics related to same-sex unions the feedback from conservative viewers can be quite stormy … Therefore I was prepared that my Icelandic report would get some angry feedback as well.“
people among the older generation. This is probably connected to Estonia being under the Soviet occupation for almost 50 years until we regained our independence in 1991. During the Soviet times being gay was punishable,which is probably the reason why many people being born before the 70’s and 80’s see being gay as something forbidden.“
Why did you decide to compare Iceland with Estonia?
“As the topic is still hot in Estonia and there is still a lot of fear regarding the possible effects of legalizing same-sex unions, it seemed like Iceland, that’s had same-sex partnerships legal for 21 and same-sex marriage legal for 7 years, would be a great case-study to see how the legalization would affect a society.
“The week the report was aired our show gathered 163.000 viewers and with that result we were the most-watched show of the country that week.“
In Estonia there are opposition groups who say that legalizing same-sex unions would undermine the value of a traditional family and marriage, that accepting same-sex unions would have a negative effect on the natural growth of the population etc. It seemed interesting to see if those fears had a base or not in Iceland’s case.“
As Iceland was the first country to accept Estonia as a sovereign country is there a strong link between the nations? Do Estonians look to Iceland for guidance in these matters?
“I think that Estonia has always looked up to Iceland as we are both small nations often facing similar challenges because of that. Iceland has been independent for a longer period than we have, which means that your society is more mature and ahead of us in many aspects. Besides, according to a happiness index Icelanders are the third happiest nation in the world. It must mean that you’ve made many wise decisions and therefore set a good example also for Estonia.“
NOTE: You can watch the programme here, where Piret interviews Margrét Pála Ólafsdótir, author of Hjallastefnan ehf. which specializes in preschool management and former chair of Samtökin ’78, Hjörtur Magni Jóhannsson a Lutheran priest at the Reykjavík Free Church and partners Lárus Sigurður Lárusson and Sævar Þór Jónsson who are both lawyers and work for the company Lawyers Sundagörðum.