Denmark (and its official church) set to legalize gay marriage

by on October 25, 2011  •  In Marriage, Religion

I have to confess that I didn't realize that Denmark has an official state religion – the Church of Denmark – administered by public employees, supported by taxes, and with policies subject to the decisions of the secular state. How does a society set up in that way navigate the issue of same-sex marriage?  See below, from the Copenhagen Post:

…The government plans to introduce a bill just after the New Year that will allow same-sex couples to hold weddings in the Church of Denmark and be ‘married’ under Danish law. Same-sex couples are currently allowed to have ‘registered partnerships’, a civil status, but are barred from marriage and church weddings.

“The first same-sex weddings will hopefully become reality in Spring 2012. I look forward to the moment the first homosexual couple steps out of the church. I’ll be standing out there throwing rice,” the new church minister, Manu Sareen, a Social Liberal, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper…

In 1989 Denmark became the first country in the world to legalise civil unions between same-sex partners. But the country stopped short of calling it “marriage” and same-sex couples still are not allowed to have marriage ceremonies in the Church of Denmark.

Polls taken over the years, and right up until last week, have consistently shown that around 69 percent of the population supports same-sex marriage in the church. The Danish clergy and politicians have lagged behind popular opinion, however.

A 2004 poll revealed that less than 40 percent of the clergy in the Church of Denmark supported same-sex marriage – a more than 30 percentage point difference from the general population. Moreover, bills to legalise same-sex marriage were voted down by parliament several times.

But the outlook may be different now that the centre-left has assumed power after ten years in opposition and has appointed a church minister whose beliefs and religious habits more closely resemble those of most Danes…

Less than five percent of Danes today attend church services on a weekly basis, yet 80 percent are – like Sareen – registered members who pay taxes to support it, but who only rarely attend services. This year alone, the Church of Denmark will receive an estimated 5.9 billion kroner in taxes from its registered members, plus additional tax-supported state subsidies equalling 130 kroner for every single citizen, regardless of religious affiliation, sexual preference, or other beliefs.

Helene Devantié, the chair of Kirketjenerforening, the association for church employees, was willing to allow for same-sex marriages in the Church of Denmark, but only as long as church employees could choose, on an individual basis, whether or not to serve same-sex couples.

“The churches should have the option of creating local agreements, so that the employees who have ethical or moral problems with homosexuals marrying can exempt themselves,” she said.

Devantié’s demand raised questions about whether church employees – public employees, whose salaries are paid by taxes – should have the right to refuse service to certain citizens, just because they disapprove of their lifestyles or personal attributes.

Minister Sareen said church employees who are set against marrying homosexuals would not be forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies. “But we must also make it possible for homosexuals to marry in the church,” he added.


One Response to Denmark (and its official church) set to legalize gay marriage

  1. Jay October 25, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    Yes, Denmark has a national church. The Church of Denmark is a Lutheran church. The Scandinavian national churches are “folk churches” that pay more attention to citizenship and ethnicity in determining membership than to doctrine. Most Danes do not “believe” in the teachings of the church, but support it largely to preserve the architecture and history it represents, as well as its function in christening infants, marrying couples, and providing funerals and burials.

    The general disdain for religion in Denmark is one reason why the prohibition of performing civil partnerships in the Church of Denmark was not an issue when they were established. However, this prohibition and the ban against the word “marriage” has come to be a thorn in the side of many gay men and lesbians. Hence, the current legislative proposal.

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