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Denmark Poised to Offer Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Oct 26, 2011
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Still another nation is ready to step forward and offer gay and lesbian families full legal recognition and equality, as the United States lags further and further behind.

Denmark is set to offer marriage parity to same-sex couples starting next year, an Oct. 24 article in Australian newspaper the Star Observer reported, drawing on reports in two Danish newspapers, the Copenhagen Post and Jyllands-Posten.

Denmark led the way by offering gay and lesbian families civil partnerships in 1989, and was the first nation to do so. A bill to legalize full marriage will be introduced in early 2012, and government officials expect that the new law will take effect soon after.

Currently, seven European nations offer marriage equality to same-sex couples. Denmark would become the eighth.

One twist on the story of Danish marriage equality is that unlike some other nations, such as Great Britain--where civil unions are offered, and where no religious ceremony is permitted under law to be part of the wedding--marriages for gays and lesbians would be offered through the official denomination, the Church of Denmark.

An Oct. 24 Digital Journal article reported that critics of the upcoming legislation see it as a cynical ploy by the state church to appease gays and plump up attendance.

For the Danish government, however, it’s simply a matter of equality.

"I look forward to the moment the first homosexual couple steps out of the church," said Church Minister Manu Sareen. "I’ll be standing out there throwing rice."

Sareen went on to say that gay and lesbian families having been denied parity had been "problematic" for Denmark.

"I have many friends who are homosexuals and can’t get married," Sareen told the media. "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."

Religious leaders see things from the exact opposite perspective, and claim that "fatal" problems will arise from granting same-sex couples the same rights and protections that heterosexual couples enjoy.

"Lots of people are mistaken in thinking that homosexual weddings are just the next step after female priests," said the Evangelical Lutheran Network’s Henrik Højlund. "But it is much more consequential and beyond the boundaries for normal Christianity."

The anti-gay cleric claimed that the church was abandoning its divine mission in order to reach out to a contemporary world--one that increasingly regards gays and lesbians as part of normal, everyday life rather than pathologizing or condemning them.

"The Church of Denmark is being secularized right up to the altar in a desperate and mistaken attempt to meet modern people halfway," declared Højlund.

But Denmark’s move to bring gay and lesbian families into the fold of equality is in step with, and even on the vanguard of, Europe’s present-day values.

"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," noted Digital Journal. "Currently, only Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and Iceland recognize same-sex civil marriages."

The Church of Denmark is directly funded by taxpayer money, the Star-Observer noted in an Oct. 26 follow-up article. That fact, plus the 70 percent approval rate for marriage equality, equals "religious freedom in action," the article said, although the publication predicted that anti-gay Christians would "cry blue murder" over the anticipated new law and hold up the Danish example as proof that gays are forcing an "agenda" on people of faith.

No Church of Denmark clergy will be forced to preside over or participate in same-sex weddings, and no other churches will be required to open their doors to gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry.

A few other nations also offer marriage equality, such as South Africa and Argentina. The social climate is not always on par with the legalities, however, and even where marriage is legal for gay and lesbian families anti-gay groups are prone to challenging those rights.

Marriage equality in Brazil withstood just such a challenge recently on Oct. 25, the Associated Press reported in an Oct. 26 story. Brazil’s highest court of appeals upheld a marriage between two women, the article said.

Last June, a Brazilian court allowed to men in a civil partnership to upgrade their legal status to married.

"It was in May that Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that gay civil unions could be recognized," noted the AP. "But the top court stopped short of recognizing full marriages.

"Since then, several couples have petitioned to have their civil unions recognized as full marriages. Some of those have been approved at lower courts, others blocked."

The Oct. 25 "ruling by the Supreme Appeals Court overturned two lower court’s ruling against the women," the AP report added.

In the America, eight states have approved marriage equality. Voters in two of those states, California in 2008 and Maine in 2009, have approved ballot initiatives stripping marriage rights from gay and lesbian families, and a legislative committee in a third state, New Hampshire, advanced a bill to rescind the marriage rights of gays in that state on Oct. 25.

An anti-gay law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex families. Two federal courts have found portions of DOMA to be unconstitutional, and the Obama Administration, in agreement with the courts, has stopped defending DOMA in the multiple court challenges the law faces.

Anti-gay Congressional Republicans have hired a private attorney at taxpayer expense to continue defending the law.

Meantime, Congressional Democrats are working toward passage of a bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, that would repeal DOMA.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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