Denmark is poised to become just the eighth country in Europe to recognize same-sex civil marriages. While many countries recognize same-sex civil unions of various stripes, few are yet willing to support the full notion of same-sex marriage.
The Danish government is set to introduce a bill in early 2012 that will allow homosexuals the opportunity to marry in the Church of Denmark. While Denmark was the first country to allow same-sex civil union in 1989, the country stopped short of allowing same-sex marriage, the sticking point for many in the ongoing debate over whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry, as opposed to merely forming civil unions.
According to The Advocate, upwards of 70 per cent of the Danish population are in favour of allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in the Church of Denmark. Yet the leap from civil union to marriage has been over twenty years in the making.
“The first same-sex weddings will hopefully become reality in Spring 2012," claimed Manu Sareen, a Social Liberal Church Minister in the Danish government. He told the Copenhagen Post that "I look forward to the moment the first homosexual couple steps out of the church. I’ll be standing out there throwing rice."
“I have many friends who are homosexuals and can’t get married," Sareen continued. "They love their partners the same way heterosexuals do, but they don’t have the right to live it out in the same way. That’s really problematic."
But the move is not without its critics. Despite Sareen's assertion that priests who do not wish to perform such ceremonies will be accommodated, many regard the move as simply an attempt by the Church of Denmark to compromise with religiously-minded homosexuals currently denied the right to marry. Others see it as nothing more than a play to increase the low church attendance record.
The Post is reporting that less than five per cent of Danes attend church services, yet eighty per cent of the registered population pay to subsidize the Church of Denmark through their taxes without attending services. "This year alone," writes the Post, "the Church of Denmark will receive an estimated 5.9 billion kroner ($1.1B USD) in taxes from its registered members, plus additional tax-supported state subsidies equaling 130 kroner ($25 USD)" per person annually.
Henrik Højlund, a parish priest for Løsning and Korning and the chairman for the Evangelical Lutheran Network, strongly disagreed with Sareen's recent announcement.
“Lots of people are mistaken in thinking that homosexual weddings are just the next step after female priests," Højlund reported to the Post. "But it is much more consequential and beyond the boundaries for normal Christianity."
“The Church of Denmark is being secularised right up to the alter in a desperate and mistaken attempt to meet modern people halfway,” Højlund said, noting his impression that allowing same-sex couples to marry in the Church of Denmark would prove "fatal."
Yet Denmark is moving ahead with the plan, and will become the eighth nation in Europe to officially recognize the right of homosexuals to legally marry. Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland are among many European nations that recognize the right of same-sex couples to form a civil union, but all and more stop short of allowing civil marriage. Currently, only Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and Iceland recognize same-sex civil marriages.
But for now, Sareen is optimistic about the passage of the bill in the new year, and the greater equality this will signify for all Danes.
“Today it would be unthinkable not to have female priests,” he noted. “That’s how it will also be for same-sex weddings.”