Black registrar to hold mass wedding in Belgium

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The event will be held on the Grand Place in Sint-Niklaas, which is the one with the largest surface area in Belgium.

In Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, a multicultural mass marriage event is to take place next Wednesday, on the U.N.-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. More than 550 couples have already registered to make a devotion pledge or renew their wedding vows before municipal officer Wouter Van Bellingen. The alderman called for the event after three couples cancelled their marriage because Wouter is black.

Van Bellingen, whose Rwandan parents gave him up for adoption, grew up in Sint-Niklaas as the youngest child in a family of 4 adopted children. Van Bellingen is a member of the political party Spirit, which strives for more Flemish autonomy in Belgium. After the 2006 municipal elections in Belgium, he became the first black councillor in Belgium, responsible for civilian, youth and international affairs in Sint-Niklaas. "The combination of his black skin colour with the shiny white brides dresses will be very photogenic..." mayor Freddy Willockx predicted when he presented his councillors. One month after Van Bellingen took office, the media reported that three couples refused to be married by a black registrar.

At first, Van Bellingen wasn't very surprised. "As a coloured person, I go through this every day. That's just the reality in Flanders. Only, I didn't expect this to happen so fast." After the incident, Van Bellingen got hundreds of calls and letter from people supporting him, including prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who condemned "such as stupid form of racism".

Socialist mayor Willockx accused the far-right political party Vlaams Belang (Eng. Flemish Interest) of creating the atmosphere for his deputy's experience. Vlaams Belang is second in the polls for the elections next June in Flanders. But, as Van Bellingen pointed out: "This is not just a problem in Sint-Niklaas, or in Flanders, but all over Europe. And there are racists in every political party here."

Since Van Bellingen made the news, the number of wedding ceremonies he has to lead has doubled, and even bookings for 2008 are coming in. Because many people regretted the fact that they could not be married by the famous alderman, he decided to organise a mass wedding, on the International anti-racism day. Not only future and established couples can take part in the ceremony, but even teens who want to prove their love. "Anyone can wed that day. I'm not a racist."

Similar to the television show Fata Morgana, Wouter has 5 challenges for the couples and for the city of Sint-Niklaas: together, they are to realise the biggest wedding pledge, a big wedding photo, a big group hug on the market square, a multicultural dessert buffet and a big first wedding dance.

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