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Topics In the News
Denmark to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/14/12
Last updated on: 03/14/12
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Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced on March 13, 2012 that beginning June 15, 2012, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry both at City Hall and in the Church of Denmark. The announcement puts Denmark on track to become the eleventh country to permit same-sex marriage nation-wide.

In October, Thorning-Schmidt's newly formed coalition government declared that it would move to legalize same-sex marriage this year. The announcement on March 13 comes after a period of negotiation with officials of the Church of Denmark, who have resisted previous attempts to pass legislation permitting same-sex marriage. As a result of the negotiations, the new law will allow individual priests to decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

With polls showing about 76% of Danes in favor of permitting same-sex marriage in church, the legislation is expected to pass Parliament easily.

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, 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.

Although the Church of Denmark ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy and welcomes the full participation of homosexuals in ecclesiastical life, its official position is that marriage is God's framework for the relationship between a man and a woman, and that this framework is separate from the choice of same-sex couples to live with each other in responsible community approved by society, i.e., in a registered partnership.

Although the bishops of the Church resisted developing new rituals for blessing same-sex partnerships, they agreed that couples who wished a non-ritualized recognition in church of their registered partnership should be accommodated. In such cases, the minister, after seeking advice from his bishop, has the power to decide whether to perform the blessing.

Seven of the Church's 11 bishops have approved a "recommended scheme for church blessing of registered partnerships" for use in their dioceses, while four bishops have declined to do so, leaving the kind of blessing to the discretion of individual priests. It is believed that about 30% of priests decline to perform church blessings of same-sex partnerships.

Most of the priests who oppose blessing same-sex partnerships reside in traditionally conservative rural areas and in central West Jutland (the former Ringkjøbing Amt) and on Bornholm. Most priests in other areas tend to be liberal.

According to the Copenhagen Post, at a press conference 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."

"The law will go into effect on June 15, so already this summer we'll see the first gays and lesbians getting married in Danish churches," she added.

Thorning-Schmidt specified that it would be up to individual priests to decide whether or not they will wed gay and lesbian couples. Per Bucholdt Andreasen, chairman of the Priests Association said that he expected that about 70% of the association's 2,000 priests will be willing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

When Denmark's legislation to permit same-sex marriage goes into effect, 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.

The Copenhagen Post's Christian Wenande reports that there may be a slight hitch in the proceedings.

There is a possibility that if couples who have already entered into civil partnerships wish to wed in the church, they may first have to nullify their existing union.

That possibility annoys sales director Stig Elling, who is planning on walking down the aisle on June 15.

"The word divorce carries negative connotations, and legally it could have consequences in case something happens to one of us during the six months it takes to process the divorce and remarry," Elling, who is in a civil partnership, told a reporter from Kristeligt Dagblad.

In the video below, made on the eve of the September 2011 election, Danes speak about the prospect of electing their first female Prime Minister.

The video below reports on Helle Thorning-Schmidt's election victory.

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