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Topics In the News
Denmark Passes Marriage Equality Legislation
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/07/12
Last updated on: 06/07/12
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Manu Sareen, a promoter of the legislation.

On June 7, 2012 Denmark's Parliament, the Folketing, approved gender-neutral marriage legislation on a 85-24 vote. In 1989, Denmark became the first nation in the world to offer equal legal rights to gay and lesbian couples when it established registered partnerships. On June 15, when the new law goes into effect, Denmark will be the eleventh country to offer equal marriage rights to all its citizens.

Manu Sareen, the Minister for Equality and Church and Nordic Cooperation in the coalition government of the Social Democrats, Social Liberal Party, and Socialist People's Party, helped shepherd the legislation through the Folketing. He said of equal marriage: "It's liberalism, it's diversity, it's equality, it's tolerance, and it's so beautiful."

Under the legislation approved on June 7, same-sex couples may be married both at city halls and in churches, though only the state church, the Church of Denmark (also known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark), to which 80% of the Danish population belongs, is required to perform same-sex marriages. The legislation allows individual priests to decline to wed same-sex couples, but if they do so they are obligated to assist couples in finding a priest who will marry them.

New rites for the wedding of same-sex couples have been developed and endorsed by ten of the eleven bishops of the national Church.

Plans for the marriage equality legislation was announced by Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on March 13, 2012, fulfilling a promise made by her newly formed coalition government in October 2011.

The announcement on March 13 came after a period of negotiation with officials of the Church of Denmark, who had resisted previous attempts to pass legislation permitting same-sex marriage.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to permit same-sex civil unions, known as registered partnerships. The registered partnerships convey all the financial benefits and civil rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, but it bars church ceremonies and the use of the term marriage (though most Danes colloquially refer to same-sex partnerships as marriages).

In 1997, the Church of Denmark began permitting the blessing of same-sex partnerships. Many priests have violated the registered partnership law by blessing the partners at city halls. However, until this year church officials have consistently opposed legislation authorizing same-sex church weddings.

Like many of the Nordic state churches, the Church of Denmark is rooted in Lutheranism. In the face of the populace's widespread skepticism about religion and religious beliefs, the Scandinavian churches see themselves as "folk churches." From this perspective, dogma is less important than inclusiveness on the basis of ancestry and nationality. Hence, these churches make no distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation in membership and are vague on such questions as to whether homosexual acts are sinful.

It is believed that 70% of Church of Denmark priests are willing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Most of the priests who oppose same-sex marriage are thought to reside in traditionally conservative rural areas and in central West Jutland (the former Ringkjøbing Amt) and on Bornholm.

On March 13, Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt, who in October 2011 became Denmark's first female Prime Minister, said that "We have looked at two laws that will provide the gay and lesbian community the opportunity to get married in the church and at city hall. . . . I firmly believe that this is a natural step to take in a modern society like Denmark."

On June 15, Denmark will join the following countries in embracing marriage equality nation-wide: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden. Other countries, including Brazil, Mexico, and the United States permit same-sex marriage in particular cities, provinces, or states.

In the video below, a young Dane expresses his delight at marriage equality in Denmark.

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