On Wednesday, Luxembourg swore in Xavier Bettel as its first openly gay prime minister. When Bettel, 40, moves into the Prime Minister’s official residence, it will be with his partner, Destenay Gauthier.
Bettel, the leader of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s Democratic Party and former mayor of Luxembourg City, has become the second openly gay leader of a European country following Iceland’s Price Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir. Bettel’s deputy, Etienne Schneider, is also openly gay. Luxembourg will be the first ever country to have a gay prime minister and a gay deputy prime minister in office at the same time.
As prime minister, he is expected to push forward progressive social reforms, including same-sex marriage and replacing religious instruction in school with more general ethics classes.
In October, Bettel led the Democratic Party to its most victorious election ever, and on October 25, he was appointed “formateur” by the country’s head of state, Grand Duke Henri, putting Bettel in charge of the formation of a coalition government with the Greens and Socialists.
Bettel has said he immediately asked his partner, Gauthier, if it would be all right to accept the job as prime minister.
“My partner is a bit scared,” Bettel said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “I try to be at home most nights as we’re a team but the obligations [of being Prime Minister]mean I will have to go abroad a lot. I asked him the day after the election whether it was okay to form a government and he supported me. If he had said no I would have to think whether I could accept it or not—I didn’t want to break up a relationship! We’re a good team for good times and bad.”
Bettel also said that while many politicians feel the need to conceal their sexuality, and he sympathizes, he himself has never felt that way.
“Everyone has to be okay with their own situation,” said Bettel. “When you have accepted yourself that you are like you are—the first step as a teenager—the next step is to see that no one cares. If you are losing friends because of your sexuality then they are not your friends. I never hid it. It’s a fact, I am like I am and I want to be honest with myself and honest in politics.”
Bettel is adamant that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Luxembourg by 2014, but he also said that his main endeavor is to improve the country’s flailing economy.
“I’m not a gay [prime]minister—my sexual orientation is no reason whether I’m elected or not elected. I do politics in favour of all the people, not one lobby group and we also have problems with unemployment, housing and finance.”
While the population of Luxembourg is only about 540,000—to put that in perspective, the population of San Francisco is estimated to be around 825,000—the country has considerable influence in the European Union, which means Bettel has a distinct possibility of becoming a prominent figure in Brussels.