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Religious Tolerance logo

Legalizing same-sex marriage in Denmark

Part 1

1993 to 2012: Denmark attains marriage equality.
2014: Confusion elsewhere over church freedom
to discriminate against same-sex couples.

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The path towards legalization of same-sex marriage in Denmark:

  • 1933: Consensual same-gender sexual behavior was decriminalized.

  • 1948: Denmark's first pro-LGBT organization was founded. The group's name was chosen to be the "Association of '48." At the time, references to homosexual orientation were still taboo. It was only in the late 1980s that the group was renamed to the "National Association of Gays and Lesbians." 1

  • 1984: A bill in the Denmark Legislature to create a system of registered partnerships for same-sex couples failed to pass. It would have allowed same-sex couples to register their relationship with the government and to obtain many of the benefits and protections that married opposite-sex couples enjoy.

  • 1989: The government of Denmark introduced a second version of a registered partnership bill. It passed on 1989-MAY-26 with a clear majority of votes in Parliament. Public opinion polls at the time indicated that only about 25% of adults opposed the bill. This was the first country to make partnerships available to same-sex couples. Axel and Eigil Axgil were the first couple to be registered. Their ceremony was conducted at Copenhagen's town hall. 1
  • 2010: Same-sex couples in registered partnerships were allowed to adopt children for the first time. 5

  • 2011-MAY: The Copenhagen Post reported that a public opinion poll showed that about 75% of Danish adults supported same-sex marriage. 3

  • 2011-NOV: The state church -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark 10 (a.k.a. Church of Denmark or Danish National Church) -- had only offered church ceremonies to bless same-sex couples' registered partnerships. This took the form of a short blessing ceremony at the end of the regular church service. The government announced that it hoped to change the federal marriage law by the spring of 2012 to require the state church to offer full church wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples which would then be registered by the government as marriages. Individual members of the clergy in the state church would be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples without sanctions. Manu Sareen, the Danish Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, said:

    "I look forward to the moment [when] the first [married] homosexual couple steps out of the church. I'll be standing out there throwing rice." 4

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  • 2012-JUN-07: Denmark's legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill by an overwhelming majority: 85 to 24. Manu Sareen said:

    "This is equality between couples of the same gender and couples of different genders. [It is] A major step forward." 6

    He also said:

    "I think it's very important to give all members of the [state] church the possibility to get married. Today, it's only heterosexual couples. ... The debate has been really tough. The minority among Danish people, politicians and priests who are ... [opposed --] they've really shouted out loud throughout the process." 7

The very conservative Danish People's Party heavily opposed passage of the bill. Christian Langballe, the party's church spokesperson said in Parliament:

"Marriage is as old as man himself, and you can't change something as fundamental. Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman."

His statement is not accurate. Polygamous marriage are mentioned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (the Bible's Old Testament). Solomon appears to have held the all-time record with 400 wives and 300 concubines!

Stig Elling, owner of a travel industry company and former conservative politician, said he planned to marry his partner of 28 years when the bill becomes law. He said:

    "We have felt a little like we were living in the Middle Ages. I think it is positive that there is now a majority for it, and that there are so many priests and bishops who are in favor of it, and that the Danish population supports us about it. We have moved forward. It's 2012."

The bill became law a few days after the vote in the Legislature when Queen Margrethe II gave it her royal assent.

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  • 2012-JUN-15: The bill became effective. Same-sex couples were able to obtain their marriage licenses, and later marry. 6

    Denmark attained marriage equality and was the fourth Scandinavian country to do so, after Norway on 2009-JAN-01, Sweden on 2009-MAY-01, and Iceland on 2010-JUN-27. Finland later followed suit on 2014-NOV-28.

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2014-JUN: Widespread confusion and misinformation circulates in the U.S. about marriage equality in Denmark:

Almost exactly two years after same-sex marriage became legal in Denmark, misinformation started to circulate in the U.S. about same-sex marriage in Norway. The origin of the confusion appears to be the multiple meanings of the word "church:"

  • Sometimes "church" in Denmark refers to the Christian Church, composed of multiple denominations and including all Christians in the country.

  • Sometimes, it refers to a specific Christian denomination. An example is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, which is the state church. It is controlled to a degree by the Danish Parliament. 10

  • Sometimes it refers to another specific Christian denomination, like the Roman Catholic Church in Denmark.

  • Other times, it refers to a specific local congregation of believers.

The 2012-JUN law requires congregations within the national, state church -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark -- to marry same-sex couples in the same way that they have always married opposite-sex couples. The remaining religious groups in Norway, including other Christian denominations and non-Christian faith groups were given the freedom to choose whether they would or would not conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

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Unfortunately, at least one media outlet appeared to scramble this information and stated that all faith groups in Denmark were required by the government to marry same-sex couples. On 2012-JUN-07, The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, published an article on same-sex marriage which were about to become available in Denmark. The header reads:

"Gay Danish couples win right to marry in church: Homosexual couples in Denmark have won the right to get married in any church they choose, even though nearly one third of the country's priests have said they will refuse to carry out the ceremonies." 7

The text of the article begins:

"The country's parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.

Denmark's church minister, Manu Sareen, called the vote 'historic'.

'I think it's very important to give all members of the church the possibility to get married. Today, it's only heterosexual couples.'

Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church."

The header is confusing in two places:

  • The term "gay" sometimes refers to males with a homosexual orientation, and sometimes to males and females with this orientation.

  • The term "homosexual couples" is not particularly accurate. Some same-sex couples include one or two bisexuals.

  • Same-sex couples do not have the right to "get married in any church they choose." They can only be married by a priest in the state church -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. Other denominations are able to refuse to marry such couples.

The article's text is also confusing:

  • The phrase: "... mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages" is in error. It does not refer to all churches. It only refers to congregations within the state church.

  • The article's third sentence clarifies the confusion somewhat. It appears to refer only to the state church, because clergy of other Christian denominations are often called pastors or ministers, not priests. Also many denominations do not have bishops.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lisa Abend, "A Triumph for Love in Denmark," Time magazine, 2009-JUN-18, at: http://content.time.com/
  2. "Getting married," U.S. Embassy at Copenhagen -Denmark, undated, at: http://denmark.usembassy.gov/
  3. "Denmark To Consider Gay Marriage Legislation; Minister Hopes For Same-Sex Weddings By Spring 2012," Huffington Post, 2012-OCT-24, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  4. Stehan Gray, "Denmark set to introduce gay religious wedding ceremonies 'in spring 2012'," Pink News, 2011-NOV-23, at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  5. "Gay Marriage Around the World," Pew Research, 2013-DEC-19, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
  6. "Denmark approves same-sex marriage and church weddings," BBC News, 2012-JUC-07, at: http://www.bbc.com/
  7. "Gay Danish couples win right to marry in church," The Telegraph, 2012-JUN-07, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  8. "Catholic Church not affected by new same-sex marriage law in Denmark," Vatican Radio, 2014-JUN-10, at: http://en.radiovaticana.va/
  9. Sarah Jones, "Rotten In Denmark?: AFA’s Fischer Distorts Danish Same-Sex Marriage Law To Scare U.S. Fundamentalists," Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, 2014-JUN-12, at: https://www.au.org/
  10. The web site of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark is at: http://www.lutheranchurch.dk/
  11. Bryan Fischer, "Churches ORDERED to perform sodomy-based wedding ceremonies," One News Now, 2014-JUN-11, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/

How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > SSM sub-menu > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality> Same-sex marriage > SSM sub-menu > here

Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2014-DEC-03
Last updated 2014-DEC-03
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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